politics

Child marriage: Why we can't turn a blind eye.

Worldwide, one in every three girls is married before they’re 18 and every two seconds another girl is forced into marriage.

In CARE International’s Vows of Poverty: Child Marriage report, the organisation identifies 26 countries where girls are more likely to be forced into a child marriage than enroll in high school. Niger, Chad and the Central African Republic top the list with the reality looking murkier the more we delve into the report. Consider these alarming statistics:

?  In Niger, 76 per cent of girls are married before 18, with just 10 per cent of girls enrolled in secondary school.
?  In Chad, 68 per cent of girls are married before 18, while just 5 per cent of girls are enrolled in secondary school.
?  In the Central African Republic, 68 per cent of girls are married before 18, with just 10 per cent of girls enrolled in secondary school.

Women often become the first casualties of conflict. Image via @careaustralia Instagram.

Why is this happening?

Gender discrimination, poverty and economic discrimination, cultural or religious customs, inadequate laws, trafficking and kidnapping… the list continues, however, an alarming trend we’re seeing emerge in Syria is related to war and conflict.

A sad reality is that girls often become the first casualties of war – kidnapping, rape, trafficking – such atrocities often lead parents to opt for what is considered a lesser evil: marrying their daughter at a young age to a man they hope will protect and provide for her.

The Syrian war acts as a prime example of war and conflict having grave consequences for girls. CARE’s Protect Her Honour report highlights the spike in registered child marriages.

Between 2011-2014, the number of marriages in Syrian refugee populations in Jordan involving a girl aged between 15 and 17-years-old has tripled, from 12 per cent to over 30 per cent.

There are many Syrian refugees fleeing like 7-year-old Shahd. Image via @careorg Instagram.

While we can reel off as many stats and numbers as we see fit, often, what is overlooked is the impact the situation is having on the people living and breathing this reality.

Isadora Quay, a Gender in Emergencies Specialist for CARE International, has seen things most of us only read or hear about on the news.

Her time spent on the ground in Turkey speaking with Syrian refugees living in camps has provided us with priceless insight into the mindset of people suffering as the country’s four and a half year civil war rages on.

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Quay told the ABC’s PM program that women’s groups were incredibly concerned about child marriage, or ‘early marriage’ as it was referred to. It was consistently the first issue that was raised when speaking with her. However, when the same set of interviews was conducted with men in the region, it wasn’t mentioned.

And yet, while underdeveloped countries are very clearly in need of our help and global refugee numbers are at the highest levels since World War II, recently, we’ve seen Australian aid slashed by a record-breaking $11.3 billion. Among many other things, this money helps organisations like CARE International to work with Syrian refugees in the Middle East to help people rebuild their lives. It also assists with necessities we take for granted in Australia, like seeing girls benefiting from an education and being given the opportunity to prosper.

We need to see action. Image via @careorg Instagram.

Recent announcements from the Labor Party and the Greens committing to repairing the Australian aid budget are promising, however, both party’s stances reiterate how the issue has left our ever-eloquent Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, lost for words.

“We need all politicians and political parties to support more and better aid. People are standing up for Australian Aid with many going to dearprimeminister.org to write to Malcolm Turnbull to let him know cutting aid is not who we are,” says Executive Officer for the Campaign for Australian Aid, Tony Milne.

The spotlight is now on Australia. Reports are great and inform us about all of the statistics under the sun but we need to see action.

How is it fair that a girl born in Australia automatically has a healthier and happier future as opposed to a girl born in an underdeveloped country?

Now that’s a question we rightfully will never find an answer to.

Send your letter to Mr Turnbull by visiting: dearprimeminister.org

Sarah Cannata is the Communications Officer at Campaign for Australian Aid.

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