Media needs to break its silence on illegal child marriage
Till last week thirteen year old Hanar, used to play hopscotch with her friends on the street near my house. Then, suddenly, I was invited to Hanar’s wedding. Now she has stopped going to school and is looking after her ‘family’.
The legal age of marriage in Iraqi-Kurdistan is 18 years. Yet, thirteen year old girls are being forced into marriage by their families. Child marriage is a serious problem in the region, especially within the same tribes.
A law is being violated almost on a regular basis. Future of thousands of little girls is being snatched away. You would think that the local media is full of stories reporting this violation. That’s not true.
A look at the frequency of coverage shows media’s apathy towards this issue. The latest article condemning child marriage was published in July 2013. The one before that was in August 2009.1
Ms Chiman Chato, from People Development Organization in Kurdistan explains the scenario very well, “Child marriage is not considered a priority, that is why you only hear and not read about it.” Ms Chato has been working on women’s issue, including child marriage, for the last five years. Lack of media coverage is one of the many hurdles faced by activists like her.
More people need to know that child marriage is a problem in our society. By giving it frequent coverage, the media can help get the much-required attention to this issue.
Getting the statistics and figures related to child marriage in the region is a task. When activists like Ms Chato try to access them, they are threatened and asked to stay away.
If there was enough media coverage to begin with, numbers would have been public knowledge. The issue would have been established in the public domain, making it easier for activists to talk about reforms.
The impacts of the child marriage can be an article on its own. Girls who get married at the age of 13 or 15 are at risk of childbirth death five-times higher than those who are at the legal age. Not just maternal health, child marriage impacts the entire reproductive health of girls. Not mentioning the risk of domestic violence and abuse little girls may face. There is a reluctance to talk about these issues. Discussions in the media will help break the ice.
One would say that issues of war and economy are more important in a developing region like ours. Development is not just economical. The United Nations Human Development Index uses criteria like health, education, and infant mortality to rank countries. In a list of 187 countries, Iraq sits at 131. 2
To improve its ranking Iraq will have to address social issues, like child marriage. This makes the issue as newsworthy as issues of economy and war.
A lot will change with just regular media coverage. The local media can also go beyond that. For instance, media organizations in Malaysia held a global conference to discuss the impacts of child marriage in the country. More media space is being given to the issue to raise awareness. 3
In India, the media focus on child marriage made the International Center for Research on Women start a Child Marriage Prevention Plan. As a result there has been a decline in the number of child marriages and an increase in the focus on solutions. 4
Media in Kurdistan can start by reporting the open violation of the legal age of marriage. It can question the government and help organization’s demand strict enforcement of the law. The local media can run stories to create awareness about the dangers of child marriage.
I was shocked when Ms Chato told me that apparently killing someone’s childhood or risking lives at childbirth is not a priority in a developing region. This needs to change.
We have to start talking about thirteen year olds dying during childbirth. How our development is ignoring its future by not educating girls. Hanar can’t go back to school, but we can strive to give her daughters a future that was taken away from her.
1. Free Iraq online paper, http://www.iraqhurr.mobi/a/1791305.html , and PUK Media,
2. The International Human Development Indicators, www.hdr.undp.org/en/data/
3. Girls not Brides, www. girlsnotbrides.org
34 .The International Research Center on Women, www.icrw.org
(The International Human Development Index)
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital empowerment and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.