Imagine a World Where Children’s Rights Are Not Violated

February 17, 2012
By , Richmond, VA
"All human beings, whatever their cultural or historical background, suffer when they are intimidated, imprisoned or tortured . . . We must, therefore, insist on a global consensus, not only on the need to respect human rights worldwide, but also on the definition of these rights . . . for it is the inherent nature of all human beings to yearn for freedom, equality and dignity, and they have an equal right to achieve that,” as said by Tenzin Gyatso, the 14TH Dalai Lama. In his quote, Gyatso expresses freedom, equality, and dignity as rights that every single human should possess and be free to pursue. Yet, in many countries this is not so. In numerous areas around the world, people are denied their human rights. These denied rights range from the loss of education to the lack of a sense of safety. These people are forced to do things against their will. These people are abused and tortured. These people are not in possession of their human rights, yet the majority of these people, in one way or another, are aware that they should not have to endure what they are going through. The children of Yemen, who are forcefully married to men older than them, are a perfect example of this awareness.

Imagine a ten-year-old girl sitting in a court room by herself waiting to see the judge. This was the case of Nujood Ali who, in 2008, found her way to a courthouse to demand a divorce from her thirty year-old husband, Faez Ali Thamer. Nujood Ali is just one of many girls married off before age eighteen that was verbally and physically abused. Unlike some of these girls though, she also had to endure being raped her first night even after Thamer promised to wait until she physically matured. Like her, the victims of child marriage are having their lives stolen from them, violating their right to education, protection by law, to life, liberty, security. These girls are never given the chance to find their own true love, grow up, and start a family on their own terms. From the time of birth, they are considered a financial burden, and are often wedded in exchange for a cleared debt. Sometimes they are also considered a solution to a family feud, their bodies and lives given away as if they are property and not a human being, not a person, not a child.

These victimized girls are facing so much danger in their positions as young brides. They are being beaten constantly, insulted endlessly, and raped helplessly. On top of this, many girls become pregnant too earlier placing them and their babies at risk for multiple things: premature birth, preeclampsia, anemia, underweighted babies, STD’S—such as Chlamydia, Syphilis, and HIV’s—and more. Death is also a worry considering pregnant girls are more likely to lose their own life or their child’s due to pregnancy complications. This is nothing less than children having children. Neither receives the chance to grow or develop. A child is married to an older man, impregnated, and then her child is married to an older man to continue the sickening process. These marriages ruin these girls’ lives just like it did a sixteen year-old who spoke to Human Rights Watch: “My father insisted that I get married. I wanted to go to college, to become a lawyer, but there’s no chance now because I’m going to have a baby.”

Though it is something that many find displeasure with, it is traditional in Islamic countries such as Yemen. According to Islamic religion, the Prophet Muhammad was married to a nine year-old child, justifying, in their views, the marrying of these children. Child marriage is the norm in Yemen, and other such places, so much so that there is tribal saying expressing this view: “Give me a girl of eight, and I can give you a guarantee,” for a good marriage. These men have delusions that they can raise these broken girls to be the ideal wife. They believe if the girls are married at young ages they can mold, create, force them to be obedient. Yet they are many groups and individuals out there trying to prevent these outrageous marriages such as: the Convention on the Rights of Children (CRC), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriage, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The United Nations recommended a minimum age of eighteen which one Tawakkol Karmana, Yemeni activist, is in compliance with as shown by a statement in which she says, “There is a vast space in our Islamic Law heritage for reaching consensus on adopting the age of eighteen as a minimum age for marriage.”
According to Human Rights Watch, the Yemeni government actions toward child marriage have dwindled. In 1992 Yemen’s parliament abolished the legal minimum age of marriage, then at fifteen, stating it went against religion. Then again, in 2009, majority of the Yemeni parliament voted to set seventeen as the minimum marrying age, which lawmakers proceeded to oppose again for the reason of it defying the Sharia (Islamic law). Currently, because of the political changes Yemen is undergoing, the government has placed child marriage at the bottom of their list meaning more children are continually forced into wedlock.

Yemen is not the only place where child marriage takes place. It is scattered across the world from Nepal to Madagascar to Nicaragua. This does not change the fact that is utterly wrong and immoral. Even so, in many places it is done illegally such as India where the age limit is eighteen. Nadya Khalife, a women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, says, “Yemen’s political crises has left issues such as child marriage at the bottom of the political priority list, but now is the time to move on this issue, setting the minimum age for marriage at eighteen, to ensure that girls and women who played a major role in Yemen’s protest movement will also contribute to shaping Yemen’s future.” These women deserve to be treated equally as they are important individuals. Still, many are against the law. Sheik Mohammad Al-Hamzi, a Yemeni parliament member, said, “I am against the child marriage law because it restrains the freedom of others. When a certain age is set, it violates the rights of others. For example, imagine a young man of thirteen or fourteen years of age who wants to have sex. …This is a violation of his rights.” Yet, imagine a girl nine or ten years of age who only wants to further her education, and go somewhere in her life. For her to have to be verbally and physically abused, scared, scarred, helpless is a violation of her rights. What about her freedoms?

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