An October 30 article in the Los Angeles Times reports on a UN population study on child marriage and frames the problem as a primarily economic one. The 7.3 million babies born each year to girls under the age of 18 are cast as drags on developing economies since young mothers who might otherwise be in the workforce are at home caring for children. Add to that the expense of healthcare associated with adolescent pregnancies and child marriage can cost a poor country like Uganda 30 percent of its GDP.
What’s to be done? The article quotes UN Population Fund executive director Babatunde Osotimehin as to what shouldn’t be done — namely, blaming the victim — but provides no hint to a possible solution other than to say it should be “holistic.”
Fortunately, the study itself offers up a number of approaches to reduce the number of child brides — including involving religious leaders in the effort. “Motherhood in Childhood” makes it clear that child marriage is primarily a problem borne of poverty, lack of education and cultural tradition, but notes that religion is often used as a pretext for the practice. Religious leaders of all faiths officiate child marriages, rendering them sacrosanct. For this reason, the UN, UNICEF, and the International Center for Research on Women have all called upon faith leaders to speak out.
In September, UNICEF Nepal released a video featuring Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and Muslim leaders denouncing child marriage. Eleven percent of Nepalese girls are married before the age of 14 and 29 percent are married before age 18. In the PSA, Dr. Chintamani Yogi, the founder of the Hindu Vidya Peeth School in Nepal and an activist for women’s and children’s welfare, is unequivocal in his condemnation and, unlike the LA Times, is very clear about what needs to be done and who needs to do it. Says Dr. Yogi: “The holy books revere marriage as a holy union and a part of culture. Someone who does not send their children to school and prevents them from gaining an education is not a parent — but an enemy.”