Myth #1 Marriage before the age of 18 is natural, even American girls marry young.
Unlike their American counterparts who may choose to marry before 18, sixty million girls around the world are forced into marriage. The decision to marry is often made by her parents or the community under economic, cultural or social pressure. Child marriage is a violation of human rights and holds serious consequences for the health and education of both the girl and her community.
Myth #2 Early marriage can prevent HIV/AIDS and violence.
The opposite is generally true – child marriage increases the risk of contracting HIV and violence. Men who marry young girls are likely to have been sexually active prior to the wedding, and may continue to have partners outside of the marriage, while having unprotected sex with his young bride. In developing countries, most sexually active adolescent girls are married, and have higher rates of HIV infection than sexually active girls who are not married. For example, in Kenya the Population Council found 33 percent of married girls aged 15 to 19 were HIV positive, compared to 22.3 percent of their sexually active, unmarried peers. According to CARE, these girls are also twice as likely to be victims of threats or beatings by their husbands compared to girls who marry later in life.
Myth #3 Marriage provides opportunities for young girls whose family can’t provide for them.
Many well-intentioned parents arrange child marriages for a better life for their daughters; however, the consequences are often diminished opportunities. Child brides often stop going to school, resulting in limited opportunities and income-earning potential later in life. Furthermore, child marriage has grave health consequences for both the young women and their children. Child brides are more likely than those married as adults to report early, frequent, and unplanned pregnancies increasing the risk of maternal and infant morbidity and mortality. Young mothers are more likely to experience pregnancy complications and fistula, a hole between the birth passage and one or more internal organs causing inability to control their urine and bowel movements. A girl suffering from fistula is often abandoned by her husband and community, and left to die. In fact, complications associated with pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death for girls aged 15 to 19. The chance of dying in pregnancy or childbirth for girls married at or before age 14 is five times that of those aged 20 to 24. Child brides are more likely to have children with low birth weight, inadequate nutrition and anemia.
Help Stop Child Marriage
Although laws forbidding early marriage exist in most countries, much effort is still needed to ensure enforcement of such laws. The International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act would help young women access health services and family planning programs as well as create effective youth programs to educate and empower youth on reproductive health and rights.
Contact your representative to help pass the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act and end this human rights abuse now!
In reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS several organizations are coming to the same conclusion: educating only women about safe-sex isn’t the answer when women are often powerless in the making decisions about sex. For the cycle to change, men have to become involved.
The leading national Latino AIDS organization, The Latino Commission on AIDS, recently released a report on the state of New York’s response to the HIV/AIDS crisis in the Latino community. Latinos in New York represent 16 percent of the population, but account for 30 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS. Gender inequalities and oppression have caused an even more disproportionate amount of Latina women to be infected. Latinas make up nearly a third of HIV prevalence in New York City compared to only 8 percent of white women.
In a 2009 study based in the country of Puerto Rico, HIV researchers found that educating women about safe-sex fails to consider the dynamics of gender roles. These roles include sexual norms that are explicit in the Latino culture. Historically, machismo upholds hyper sexuality, power, authority and virility. On the other hand, Latinas live by marianismo, encouraging chastity, submission, inferiority, obedience and purity.
Men in the study had sex with multiple partners to prove their sexuality and were opposed to condom use because sex isn’t “real sex” without penetration and that condoms block spontaneity or sensation. Women in the study were not willing to discuses sex with their partner because of social taboos, fear of a negative or violent response, or being accused of infidelity.
The study found the responsibility of using protection was placed on the women, while the culture facilitates a dependence and deference to men. But, there were some positive gender roles that could play an important part in getting men to advocate for safe-sex.
Most importantly, the study found men more willing to use condoms by appealing to their role as provider and protector and that safe-sex practice increased their assertiveness and confidence in continuing the practice.
A good example of working with men to promote gender equality and safe-sex is the long running program established by EngenderHealth. In South Africa, the Men As Partners program holds workshops on what it means to be a man. Participants are asked to challenge long held beliefs on gender roles and compare the oppression of apartheid – which the men can relate to – to the sexism women face today.
EngenderHealth has developed the Men As Partners program in more than 15 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the United States.
The hope is that programs such as these will get advocates in the field to move on from focusing on women-only safe-sex education to asking how to identify and work beyond traditional gender roles in the whole community.