National Geographic : 2011 Jun
my own rescue fantasies roiling that night---not solely for Rajani, whom I could have slung over my own shoulder and carried away alone, but also for the 13- and the 15-year-old sisters who were being transferred like requisitioned goods, one family to another, because a group of adult males had arranged their futures for them. e people who work full-time trying to pre- vent child marriage, and to improve women's lives in societies of rigid tradition, are the rst to smack down the impertinent notion that any- thing about this endeavor is simple. Forced early marriage thrives to this day in many regions of the world---arranged by parents for their own children, o en in de ance of national laws, and understood by whole communities as an appro- priate way for a young woman to grow up when the alternatives, especially if they carry a risk of her losing her virginity to someone besides her husband, are unacceptable. Child marriage spans continents, language, religion, caste. In India the girls will typically be attached to boys four or ve years older; in Yemen, Afghanistan, and other countries with high early marriage rates, the husbands may be young men or middle-aged widowers or ab- ductors who rape rst and claim their victims as wives a erward, as is the practice in certain regions of Ethiopia. Some of these marriages are business transactions, barely adorned with additional rationale: a debt cleared in exchange for an 8-year-old bride; a family feud resolved by the delivery of a virginal 12-year-old cousin. ose, when they happen to surface publicly, make for clear and outrage-inducing news fod- der from great distances away. e 2008 drama of Nujood Ali, the 10-year-old Yemeni girl who found her way alone to an urban courthouse to request a divorce from the man in his 30s her father had forced her to marry, generated worldwide headlines and more recently a book, translated into 30 languages: I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced. But inside a few of the communities in which parent-arranged early marriage is common practice---amid the women of Rajani's settle- ment, for example, listening to the mournful Asia, a 14-year-old mother, washes her new baby girl at home in Hajjah while her 2-year-old daughter plays. Asia is still bleeding and ill from childbirth yet has no education or access to information on how to care for herself. The outsider's impulse toward child bride rescue scenarios can be overwhelming: Snatch up the girl, punch out the nearby adults, and run. Just make it stop.