While reading our copy of National Geographic this month (the June Issue), we came across an article about child brides in India, “Too Young to Wed”. Although the tradition of child marriage is not the same as sex trafficking, it has an eerily similar theme of sexual exploitation. Child marriages – now illegal and far less common than a decade ago – still take place regularly and covertly, mostly in rural villages. Child brides are mostly ages 13-15, but rarely some are as young as two or three. While most proponents of child marriage argue that an ethical marriage will not be consummated until a girl has reached sexual maturity, still a husband’s right sometimes overrules this usual practice. Sometimes, girls as young as nine are forced to learn about “the birds and the bees” for the first time on their wedding night.
The author of the article was privileged to have an invitation to one of the usually private events, since as an illegal practice, everything is done with the utmost secret. Child marriages are often tacked onto a legal wedding to avoid suspicion, the guests not aware of the extra bride and groom until they arrive.
In the wedding this author observed, there were three child brides, a 15-year-old, a 13-year-old and one, Rajani, who was the astonishingly young age of five. Although Rajani won’t join her 10-year-old husband until her guana (the Indian ceremony in which the bride is transferred from her family to her husband’s, usually at a later age), the implications of a marriage at that age tend to offend our western sensibilities.
As the author describes the marriage, it’s difficult not to judge a culture that would allow for this to happen. But, as the author points out, many of the child marriages are arranged by families as a protection for their daughters from rape and dishonor.
The bottom line is that the more women and girls are empowered in their cultures, the less instances of child marriages, sex trafficking, the sex trade and overall exploitation will take place.