Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ending child marriage

AT 15, MOST American teens are in high school, playing sports and hanging out with friends.

In South Africa, 15-year-old Tee was preparing to divorce her 60-year-old husband.

Tee, not her real name, was forced to marry her husband at 10 years old. Over the course of the five-year relationship, she gave birth to three children. One of Tee's dreams was to further her education, but because of her arranged marriage she was unable to finish school.

Tee's story is one of thousands in the provinces of the Eastern Cape and Western Cape, where child marriages are prevalent. Commonly referred to as ukuthwala, child marriages are part of tradition and culture.

"Many times, when girls fall pregnant, as young as 10, their bodies are still underdeveloped. Girls are dying while giving birth, leading to high mortality rates and infant mortality rates. These girls are also premature mentally and psychologically," said Zanele Mabaso, with the Youth Advisory Panel for the U.N. Population Fund, whose mission includes increasing access to health care for women.

In South Africa, laws such as the Children's Act and the Marriage Act exist to prevent child marriages by setting the age requirement for marriage at 18 and requiring the consent of parents or a judge before underage children can marry.

But, Mabaso said, "policies are just pen and paper. A mind-shift and education needs to occur to prevent child marriages."

- Nichelle C. Brunner,

Washington, D.C.

"My experience made me more open and culturally aware as a person, feminist and student."

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