Special Thanks to NG Live!: Too Young to Wed

childbrides1.JPGMy perspective on cultural geography has been humbled by the stories of brave girls stripped of their innocence by depths of “tradition” all over the world. It started as a regular Monday night–I volunteered at a presentation given by the researcher and writer of Child Brides: Too Young to Wed, an article in the June 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine– it culminated in an experience that I will not soon forget. Sometimes as young as two and three years old, more commonly twelve to fifteen, girls around the world (see photos here) share one startling thing in common: marriage.

Marriage, a term that at the age of twenty-two still gives me a feeling of slight discomfort, like slowly having my air supply cut off. My education has told me that child marriage is not only morally wrong, but also socially distasteful, shameful and, not to mention, utterly illegal. Yet, Monday night I sat stunned.  My education is not universal; my practices do not represent the majority.  I am a product of my cultural education, situated in society in exactly the same way these girls are placed into “underage” marriage (a relative term).  While I would like to think myself and my cultural education more correct under the Western system of freedom in marriage, I cannot fairly write-off the practices, history, and lifestyles of those raised under a different set of rules. They are there. I am here. Their culture says “yes.”* My culture says “no.” Our world is filled with shades of gray, and that concept is one of the single most important lessons in cultural geography.  We can not force assimilation, nationalism, or our own social standards onto other cultures.

2011-06-27_1145443.JPGThe presenters, Cynthia Gorney and Stephanie Sinclair, stressed the importance of acknowledging a sense of duality on the issue, stating that they themselves felt the spectrum of emotions when faced with such a complicated matter. To be fair, respectful and unbiased researchers and journalists, they had to see the other side. From a local vantage point, many community members see the early marriage of these young girls as a system of protection, “understood by whole communities as an appropriate way for a young woman to grow up when the alternatives, especially if they carry a risk of her losing her virginity to someone besides her husband, are unacceptable.” (Child Brides, NGM) In places where education is limited for girls, where public transportation is unsafe, and where life in a rural village is the only option, the bond of marriage acts to bind families, to shield young girls from rape and abandonment and is, at times, an acceptable religious practice in the community. According to a Yemeni member of parliament named Mohammed Al-Hamzi, “Islam does not permit marital relations before a girl is physically ready, he said, but the Holy Koran contains no specific age restrictions and so these matters are properly the province of family and religious guidance, not national law. Besides, there is the matter of the Prophet Muhammad’s beloved Ayesha–nine years old, according to the conventional account, when the marriage was consummated.” (Child Brides, NGM)  It is this contradiction of cultural tradition with social norms that makes the concept of child brides so frustrating to consider and even more difficult to work with.

I left the presentation Monday evening trapped inside my thoughts. 
There is very little that I can physically do to slow the system of
early marriage, furthermore, my role as an outsider makes taking up a
call-to-action even more complicated. What I can do, I quickly decided,
is use my freedom, my voice, and my reach (under the umbrella of
National Geographic) to bring attention and perspective to an issue that
is a tragic juxtaposition of cultural geography. I am one less person
ignorant to the discussion of child brides, and now, so are you.
Together we can help the seed of this issue grow by starting a
conversation, but we must be patient and open-minded in our approach.
This is my first step toward giving women everywhere a stronger voice
and platform to stand on. What will you do to give them a voice?

*Many instances of child marriage are illegal according to the laws of
the countries where they occur, but continue to be practiced in remote
villages, or within more traditional communities.
nglive.JPGThis fantastic spotlight on cultural geography took place at the
National Geographic Society. Tickets are sold to the public via NG Live!
where you can “step into a world of entertaining presentations by
today’s leading explorers, scientists, photographers, and performing
artists. From lively concerts to thought-provoking presentations,
captivating films to engaging family events, National Geographic Live!
brings you the world and all that’s in it.”

Tickets for fall 2011 events are on sale now. Check the Ticketing and
Information page
and interactive brochure for more information about
events in the nation’s capital, and at other locations around the U.S.
and Canada. You can also give your loved ones a truly unique experience
with a Nat Geo Live gift certificate.

Teachers: Bring this discussion to your classroom with the help of PBS
materials on the one-hour documentary “Child Brides: Stolen
Lives.” Also, follow up on the current status of the child brides with
this update on the June 2011 article from National Geographic magazine.
Photo Credits: NG Live! & Fredrik F. Froman

–Julia from My Wonderful World

4 thoughts on “Special Thanks to NG Live!: Too Young to Wed

  1. Alan–
    Thanks so much for making this point. If it were not for Stephanie’s compassion on this issue it may have been a long time until child brides got the media attention they deserve. She is absolutely right to fight for the human rights involved in the subject matter and I would stand by any measure of action she deemed necessary (as she is the expert, and I am merely an outside perspective). My intention with this blog post is keep her efforts alive and continue to create a space for dialogue on the topic. I appreciate your response and I hope that Stephanie would find my statements about her presentation to be fair(even if, as you pointed out, they only scratch the surface). Take care and please continue to make me aware of the short comings in my writings. Thanks again,

  2. Cultural value clashes are indeed tricky. I have been in plenty of late night discussions over cultural opinions and universal rights with others when I have been abroad. In Afghanistan I saw alot of things that were were different to me and I just had to accept that. At other points we actually got involved (child beating involving boiling water in one case). Where the line between cultural differences and bad, morally wrong activities is very vague.

  3. Thank you for this post — and for wrestling with this issue in public. One additional point of interest…
    You write: “The presenters, Cynthia Gorney and Stephanie Sinclair, stressed the importance of acknowledging a sense of duality on the issue, stating that they themselves felt the spectrum of emotions when faced with such a complicated matter. To be fair, respectful and unbiased researchers and journalists, they had to see the other side.”
    Stephanie Sinclair may “see the other side,” but as she told NPR, that other side needs to shape up:
    “I strongly believe there is not just a need for awareness-raising and prevention work, but we must find ways to help these girls who are already in these marriages — be it through giving financial incentives to their families to let them stay in school, or vocational training so they can have more say in their lives and households. Quality medical treatment is also needed for girls who are giving birth at these young ages. These girls need long-term solutions.”
    Sounds like Stephanie has a very clear bias — and thank God for that.

  4. Fascinating subject and so important to bring to our attention. Too often we view these things only in the context of our own culture and society.
    Thank you- Julia

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