Recently a video of an 11 year old girl speaking out against child marriage has gone viral. The girl, Nada al-Ahdal from Yemen, ran away from home to escape being forced into a marriage with an older man. Her video was posted to YouTube a few days ago and since then her powerful message has spread reaching over 7 million views.
Child marriage is a pressing issue in many parts of the world. According to the International Center for Research on Women, if present trends continue, 142 million young girls will be married over the next decade before reaching legal adulthood. Girls living in poverty are almost twice as likely to marry before 18 than girls in higher income households. Local cultures and traditions influence how early marriage is practiced yet the causes and consequences of early marriage are fairly universal. In many parts of the developing world, marrying off young girls is the only way struggling families can survive. Lack of education, traditional norms, culture, religion and gender discrimination are among the other reasons for early marriage. Nada states in her speech that child marriage is wrong because it takes away from the innocence of childhood. Child marriages can also result in other human rights issue such as health and violence. Girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s. Pregnancy is the leading cause of death worldwide for women ages 15 to 19. Furthermore, girls who marry before 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence than their peers who marry later. Child marriage can have large psychosocial impact on young girls. Painful early unwanted sexual activity can result in long term emotional trauma for girls and these girls often show signs symptomatic of child sexual abuse and post-traumatic stress such as severe depression.
Nada’s compelling story and message is an important one. As she points out, a girl who marries early is thrown into adulthood and doesn’t get to experience the innocence of childhood.