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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.

References:
1. Free Iraq online paper, http://www.iraqhurr.mobi/a/1791305.html , and PUK Media,
http://www.pukmedia.com/AR_Direje.aspx?Jimare=12605
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.

Comments

Y's picture

You are correct that this

You are correct that this must stop. Children bearing children is a huge physical and mental health issue worldwide. Until we accept and teach other ways to channel or satisfy the animal instinct toward procreation, we will not stop child marriages. The issue seems to be who will take responsibility for any children produced from sexual activity with a person of the opposite sex. Parents often consent to early marriage to deflect shame and transfer responsibility for their sexual-age daughters.

Conception control should be universally and freely available to all who are vulnerable to becoming pregnant, by rape or otherwise. We must also de-stigmatize accepting responsibility for handling one's own sexual feelings, by redirection into other pursuits or by direct release by one's own hand.

Blessings to you, Shahd.
Yvette

Y

shahd's picture

i agree

I agree with you Y! It requires more than just asking this to stop. it is an educative process that needs time and great serious effort

Thanks for your comment dear

Tash's picture

Timely topic, important

Timely topic, important issue. This is universal. i just read a story about the 8 year old Yemeni. girl who died on her wedding night. Its still shocking what some cultures look at as right. This really MUST change!

good job!

Kind Regards,
Patsy.

shahd's picture

Yes Patsy, it is way more

Yes Patsy, it is way more serious than what some of those family think. If you only live where I live and hear the tragic stories.

bitani's picture

This is a very important

This is a very important issue in the region, and unfortunately not so much is being done about it.

A fellow of mine from Iraq is working on an investigative on this topic with 2 other journalists from different countries to cover this issue. Can i put you in contact with him if you can lead him to interesting cases to hear about??

shahd's picture

of course

Yes of course, feel free to give him my email (shahdmajeed@gmail.com)

bitani's picture

great! thanks dear.

great! thanks dear.

JaniceW's picture

It starts here

I am so glad that you are keeping this important issue at the forefront of our minds.

I hear of stories about girls being married off at very young ages around the world. However, I am ignorant of the rationale behind this practice in Iraq. What are the motivations for this? Is it to "rid" the family of the burden of raising a girl because girls are not seen as having value in the family, is it for a dowry, is it that young girls are highly valued for their virginity or virtues that youth brings?

I believe that attacking the root of the cause will go far in developing meaningful solutions that have impact.

shahd's picture

Dear Janice, I wished I had

Dear Janice,

I wished I had more than 700 words to demonstrate all what you asked about. Child Marriage in Iraqi Kurdistan happens due to cultural reason. It is not that it does not happen for other reasons, but most of the cases happens due to the belief that a woman must end up married and have kids at an early age, cause it is mistakenly believed, the younger the woman is, the more children she can make.

In addition, men who prefer child brides believe, the younger she is, the easier to master! So it is a male dominate community, that does not want women to grow up, get educated, or think.

I am not generalizing, there are families that condemns this act, but it is still practiced unfortunately.

JaniceW's picture

Women who are educated

I completely understand the idea of not wanting women to "think" as, as you say, it means they are not easily "controlled". I come from a culture that had the same mindset and it took two generations of growing up in westernized New Zealand to break that tradition. Parents also did not want to educate the daughters as they then became unmarriageable. With good intentions and solid proof, the parents knew that the daughters' prospects for a good marriage decreased if the girls had a mind of their own and questioned things. Men (and their parents) wanted women who were dutiful, submissive and subservient, qualities not generally associated with someone with an education.

I am thankful my mother strongly believed in educating her daughters and my father was wise enough not to resist. I do believe that we women can transform the world by raising sons and daughters who respect and value gender equality, which includes the opportunity for daughters to receive an education. If those sons value and respect their mother and sisters, then they will want a wife who has her own "mind" and is an equal partner in the marriage. Likewise, they will raise their children as equals slowly breaking this cycle of male dominance.

pelamutunzi's picture

sad story

Child marriage is also a problem herand many times it’s a result of rape. The men then marries the girl to escape prosecution. Religion also causes childmarriage in some churches were polygamy is allowed and men take young girls as wives and at times to settle credit. The solutions you highlighted work but require a lot of political will and changes in the way people think. Women do not really count and their deaths are not regarded . I feel sorry for all the young brides. I pray for justice for them.

we may be powerless to stop an injustice but let there never be a time we fail to protest.
regards
pela

shahd's picture

Yes Pela, I agree. There are

Yes Pela, I agree. There are many reasons behind child marriage Child Marriage, and thus, for us to suggest solutions we need to consider all the above reasons you mentioned,plus traditions, culture, and also corruption. I also accuse governments for not being serious about this issue.

Mukut's picture

Different stories, same problem !

Shahd, you are absolutely right. Child marriage is a human rights violation where the body and mind of a child is violated and destroyed for life.

How I wish things were different in India. Yes, the statistics may have improved but let me tell you that many, many cases never get reported or come under limelight. According to the complex culture of India, where girls are considered a 'liability/burden' on the families and also to appease the cultural norm of marrying them young, there are many girls getting married RIGHT NOW, as we speak, in India.

You have raised a highly important topic Shahd and I hope more awareness and media attention is given to prioritize this social issue.

Brilliant Op-Ed, as always and well written !

Love,

Mukut Ray

shahd's picture

Dear Mukut, Thank you so d

Dear Mukut,

Thank you so d much! I totally understand, numbers may not be as effective when releasing information, but I guess the more we talk about it the more people would understand the impact. The fact that it is not enough covered by the media does not mean the problem does not exist right?

Y's picture

Well researched and

Well researched and documented, and told with a great deal of heartfelt emotion.
Good work, Shahd.
Blessings.
Yvette

Y

BALAGIZI MUHEBULE EMMANUEL's picture

HI

COORECT , JUST TO INFOM YOU THAT THE CHILDREN IN CONGO NEEDS YOU ASSITANCE AND YOUR VISIT IN CONGO
THANKS

balagizi

shahd's picture

Dear Sir, Thanks for your

Dear Sir,

Thanks for your comment. Please know that someday, I will be working on every community that needs my effort to change

Blessings

BALAGIZI MUHEBULE EMMANUEL's picture

thank you

thank you for your wish, I'm glad to see you work with Osodi south Kivu in congo africa
emmanuel yours Balagizi

balagizi

amykessel's picture

Solid and comprehensive

Shahd,
Your article clearly illustrates the tragic reality of child marriage in Iraqi-Kurdistan, and calls upon the media to do its part in rising up against the cultural norms. Bringing this issue into the public domain will create more opportunities for community groups and activists to widen their reach, and have an impact. Brava to you for demanding the change that is long overdue.

Warm regards,
Amy

shahd's picture

thank you

Thank you Amy, I am also working on other child related issues common in the community where i live. I think young girls are so vulnerable and their early years are so important.

Thanks for your support dear.

Zoepiliafas's picture

I appreciate your activist

I appreciate your activist approach to the role media can play in changing thee problems. It is in fact their responsibility to report these PRESSING URGENT issues.

Thank you for offering the below resources. I hope that your university work it coming along.

Warmly,

Zoe

Zoe Piliafas

Voices of Our Future Community Manager
World Pulse

Saywan Mustafa Ibrahim's picture

The role of media

Right, actually media is not playing its role in the region as it is supposed to be, the main focus is on political conflicts, while hundreds of people like Hanar are deprived of their natural life.

Saywan Mustafa Ibrahim
Pulse Member
Kurdistan Region (IRQ)-Erbil

shahd's picture

Thanks

Thanks Saywan!

Welcome on board dear :) I will share your profile

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