Ending child marriage interview
My appearance on Full Frame CCTV with Mike Walters talking about ending child marriage…
Thanks Mike and the team @ Full Frame for such a wonderful experience
This is shocking. 700 million of the world’s married women were wed before they turned 18. That’s according to UNICEF. This means that twenty eight girls are entering into child marriage every minute worldwide; some 15 million girls per year. Tragically some are as young as eight years old.
Two of the regions where child marriage is most common are South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. So as a result of these unions in countries in those regions the leading cause of death for girls between the ages of 15 and 19 is pregnancy and childbirth. If nothing is done to prevent child brides from being forced into marriage, 1.2 billion girls will be at risk by 2050.
Jane Sloane is fighting to protect the rights and dignity of child brides and hopes to see an end to these practices in her lifetime. The vice president of programs at Global Fund for Women, her organization has funded 241 organizations in 53 countries that are all working to end early marriage. Today she’s here to share what can be done to change these startling statistics. I want to welcome you to Full Frame Jane.
Thanks very much. It’s great to be here.
I always say that people who have purpose driven lives, they’re like candles, something or some thing ignites that candle and in your case it was Nelson Mandela. Tell us the story.
Yes, I had a day with Nelson Mandela in 2000 just before the Olympic Games actually, and he said to me, “Jane if you really want to make a difference in your life you should focus on conflict resolution and citizen lead change.” That really took me in the direction that I am now focused on which is really fighting for the rights of women and girls, worldwide.
People don’t focus on this one. It’s tragic and it’s widespread, isn’t it?
it’s very widespread and in countries like Niger in West Africa seventy-five percent of girls under the age of 18 are married off early and in places like Ethiopia, girls are actually initiated into a practice where, if they’re eight or nine, they’re taken out and they’re taught how to handle a man and then they are brought a man who they don’t know at all and they are forced to have sex with him and then after that they are considered to be a woman and so within two years of that early practice they are married off and then expected to really serve that man for the rest of their life.
And you’ve met some of these girls along the way undoubtedly, what is it like? I mean it’s so tragic, because you think of a life having an arc to it. Their life is over at a very young age. I mean it’s already predestined isn’t it?
It is. if you can imagine a girl of nine or ten years old who really doesn’t know anything other than her family to suddenly be married off, often to an older man, to imagine herself being in a very different household where she is expected to serve his every whim and to not have any access to an education, to not have any other life other than serving within that household, within that environment. It’s a really tragic waste of life for a girl.
It means that she no longer has the opportunity of an education, of any kind of job or livelihood, her dreams are lost in that situation. It really means that if we look to your earlier statistic, if we’re looking at 2050, 1.2 billion girls will be in this situation.
As a parent you know I always think I want what’s best for my kids. This clearly, to most of us would think that this is not what’s best, so talk to us about all the different things that kind of flow into this.
Well seventy-five percent of families who do marry their children off early, particularly girls, are living on less than $2 a day, So poverty has a lot to do with decisions that parents make to marry off their daughter or their son.
Often it’s also because of a debt that a family will have, where it’s easier to marry off their daughter than to pay back their debt, than to do anything else. Sometimes it’s because of the honor that parents feel towards their daughter, they want to keep her safe and so they feel the best way to keep her safe is to marry her off early, so that she isn’t violated, she isn’t raped.The irony of course is that girls who are married off early are twice as likely to be violated or to be abused within that marriage, so even though parents will often see it as a safe way of ensuring that their daughters are protected, often they’re actually doing the opposite.
The other thing is in countries like Bangladesh, which has the highest rate of girls being married off under the age of 15 it’s compounded by the level of natural disasters there’s constant natural disasters and so parents again often panic at that time because of lack of access to food and water and would think the best way that they can get some income for the rest of their family or ensure that their daughter has food and water is to marry her off at that time and with the increasing number of natural disasters and climate change impact it means that situation is really playing out in many countries around the world.
You know it’s interesting, I’m sure when you entered this field you were like I’m gonna go attack this but I’m sure you must have come in with some idea of what the situation was like and what were the things that you saw outside of that scope that really surprised you.
The love that parents have for their daughters and sons; I think that it’s very easy to be judgmental about ‘how can they possibly marry off their daughters at such a young age?’ and yet they are very complex feelings and beliefs and reasons for marrying off girls quite early.
Also though I would say the tenacity of girls to try and fight that situation and of course that’s what we really focus on. We focus on supporting girls and women to realize their rights to understand that they have rights to claim and how to be able to fight against that practice and one of the most effective ways to do that is to support women’s groups and groups of girls to be able to lobby community chiefs and people within their villages or communities to agree to not marry off a girl early.
And one example I can give of where that’s worked really well was there was a girl in one village that we were supporting and she had a disability. She had a leg that had been badly burned from a cook stove and her father wanted to marry her off because he saw her as a real burden on the family and felt it would be better to marry her early.
Her friends who knew how much he wanted to go to school brought together everyone within the local community to the family to the household and gave the father all the reasons why it was better for his daughter to go to school rather than for him to marry this girl off. He came up with a lot of reasons including; well she won’t be able to walk to school, there’s the problem of transport and one of the girls said that they would put her on her bike and carry her to work each day and that’s actually what ended up happening.
I mean the irony was his daughter was actually walking as far every day to deliver this man lunch every day, but he really felt that it would be better for her to be married off. In the end what happened was he agreed to the wishes of this girl group, he agreed to the wishes of the community and to this day she’s being “donkeyed *” to work every day on the back of this bike and she’s now got a dream of becoming a doctor when she finishes school.
So it just shows the power of girls and I think that rather than girls feeling that decisions are being made on their behalf, when girls feel that they have their own power to claim it makes a huge difference in terms of what’s possible and of course that needs to be coupled with advocating for changes at a national level and getting governments to change laws at a national level as well.
We were talking about the ages of these young girls. I can’t imagine for a minute a little girl like these that you’re describing, being pregnant, having to deliver a child and this is a real issue as well the health concerns can you talk to us about that?
Yes, you can imagine a girl of nine or ten not really knowing very much about sex, being penetrated the first time, getting pregnant at the age of nine or 10, giving birth, if she actually gets through a pregnancy of course, because the rate of girls dying in pregnancy is one in five for any girl under the age of 15, so that’s very high. But even if she gets through pregnancy, she faces a lot of health issues over her time. It might be fistula, it might be any number of other disorders both physical and psychological,l because girls just aren’t psychologically prepared to be able to either carry a child or to even be a mother at that age. As well and of course if they don’t have access to sexual and reproductive health information, they don’t know how to be able to protect themselves. So by having access to those services what we say at Global Fund for Women is this:
Four things that we really need to do to be able to support gender equality and girls empowerment.
One is for a girl to know her rights,
The second is for a girl to be able to access resources so that she has the information and the support that she needs,
The third is to be able to influence and change community attitudes and behavior and that’s often the hardest thing to change people’s mindsets,
And the fourth is to be able to change laws and legislation.
The laws and legislation aren’t just about passing laws which is what happened in Ethiopia earlier, and now in Bangladesh, it’s then ensuring that those laws are implemented because quite often you can have a law that says we make it illegal for any girl to be married under the age of 18 but often those laws also have a rider that says ‘except at parents discretion’ and it’s often parents discretion or parents paying bribes to local community chiefs that means that those girls are married off as young as nine or ten or their birth certificates are changed.
Not just that they’re second class citizens that they have no rights in many respects. What does it do to you when you’re thinking about your day in approaching your day every day trying to change this?
I think it speaks to the power of women because Global Fund has supported groups, women have ended civil wars women who have become Nobel Peace Prize winners as a result of a dream that a woman has had.
One woman’s dream has become an incredible reality if you think about what Malala has done, if you think about Wangari Maathai you had a dream to have a greenbelt movement that ended up planting millions of trees. If you think about Leymah Gbowee, she had a dream to end the civil war in Liberia. She managed to do that with many other women who we supported to get the first president woman president of Liberia elected.
All of that because we believed that they believed in their own power of dreaming, and I think that’s an incredibly important thing to hold onto. That you trust women, that you trust girls to know what’s needed and that we find the funds at every level to be able to make that dream a reality and that’s what I hold on to in my work. It’s so important to believe in one girl because if you can believe in one girl then she’ll make the most incredible things possible and I think that we have to do so much more to really recognize what happens at a grassroots level when we get not just money into the hands of those girls but also give them a voice, lift them up to be able to speak for themselves and they’ll do the most incredible work as a result.
One final question before we go, Nelson Mandela, that linkage to you that he changed your life and you know that you’re changing lives what about his legacy through you and through all these other people that you’re touching.
Well I think the most incredible thing about Nelson Mandela is that he really recognized what it was like to be in someone else’s shoes. That whole idea of ‘I and Thou’, ‘you are me and I am you’ and that we are all connected in a very powerful way and once you really embrace that idea, once you recognize that there is very little difference between us then a lot of prejudices a lot of barriers fall down and it means that a whole other world is possible and that’s his great legacy to us that great hope, the belief that you can actually change the world. And I think we have all got that ability within us.
Well we certainly know you are doing your part, so thanks Jane for coming in and talking to us. We appreciate it.
Thanks so much.
* Donkey, regional word that belongs to the realm of childhood. If a kid gives someone a lift, as a passenger, on a bicycle, in most parts of Australia this is called a dink or a double. In parts of Adelaide, however, it is called a donkey. Do kids still give dinks or donkeys, or are these words that are on their way out of Australian English? Donkey, however, is an important part of the history of South Australian English.
courtesy ABC Adelaide Blog – Top 10 SA phrases and words