Louise Allain, 13th January, 2014
Siddharth Chatterjee, Chief Diplomat and Head of Strategic Partnerships at the IFRC, writes a stirring article in HuffPost's 'The Blog' this weekend about his personal outrage at the ongoing humanitarian blight in South Asia of the cultural acceptance of child brides.
Siddharth also goes on to movingly reveal that his own grandmother was married at the age of just 11 years, and went on to have 11 children, two of whom tragically died. He talks about her in compassionate tones, "She was my grandmother and my memory of her was as a beautiful and kind woman." It is obvious that despite the fact his grandmother was an innately, sweet woman, the succession of pregnancies, especially from such a pubescent age on, leaves a mental picture in Siddharth's mind of a woman frail and stooped, aged before her time and lacking any means of education due to her being put in a servile role at barely a decade old. Still just a child.
Child marriage is banned by national and regional laws in South Asia, however the culture goes on in countries such as India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and does so most believe, because it is culturally accepted in these countries to believe the appropriate age for marriage is attained once a girl achieves puberty.
The UNOHCHR have in the past called for efforts to co-sponsor a resolution to prevent and eliminate child marriage and encouragingly countries such as Ethiopia and South Sudan did adopt the proposed resolutions. Tragically, inevitably however, local customs have taken precedence over such laws and the practice of child brides still goes on. This proves that changing the mind set of the victims' families and elders in these communities, is an immense sociological and humanitarian task.
As Siddharth explains in his article, it is not just the immorality of making girls who are still of such immaturity become sexually active without choice, or the fact their bodies are not physically mature enough to cope with the enormous pressures that pregnancy exacts upon the body but the fact that with this 'career' as a wife and mother enforced at such a tender age there is no hope of education let alone economic autonomy. A vicious cycle of pregnancy, domestic slavery and poor health is as yet visited upon hundreds of these young girls.