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The heartbreaking reality of child marriage


It’s the magic moment that people will remember for the rest of their lives – the day they pledge their undying love for each other in front of their nearest and dearest.

Yet while marriage in Europe is often about celebration and beautiful white dresses, the reality elsewhere can be somewhat uglier.

Sahar got married a year ago in Lebanon. The youngster, now 14, is two months pregnant, at an age when most Western girls would be in the full grip of education.

“The wedding day, I was imagining it would be a great day but it wasn’t, it was all misery,” she said. “I didn’t feel. It was full of sadness.”

Sahar, from Syria, fled to Lebanon as the war escalated in her homeland. It was this violence – and her father’s subsequent concern for her safety – that led to her early marriage.

Her story is sadly not unique. Of the Syrian refugees in Jordan in 2013, one-in-four girls aged 15-17 was married, according to Save The Children. A report by the charity, timed to coincide with the International Day of the Girl on October 11, says worldwide, one girl under 15 is married every seven seconds.

It highlights girls as young as ten being married – often to much older men – in countries including Afghanistan, Yemen, India and Somalia.

Khadra dreamed of becoming a doctor. But, at 15 and having just started secondary school, her father married her off to a man more than double her age.

After tying the knot, it all went downhill. She dropped out of school, fled her new-but-physically-abusive husband after less than a year of marriage and then learned she was pregnant.

After a complicated pregnancy, she gave birth through Caesarean section but the delivery left her unconscious for three days.

In the intervening time, her classmates advanced and Khadra felt unable to go back to school, especially with a child to look after.

“Child marriage starts a cycle of disadvantage that denies girls the most basic rights to learn, develop and be children,” says Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO of Save the Children.

“Girls who marry too early often can’t attend school, and are more likely to face domestic violence, abuse and rape. They fall pregnant and are exposed to STIs including HIV. They also bear children before their bodies are fully prepared, which can have devastating consequences on their and their baby’s health.”
The number of girls married in childhood is set to grow from 700 million today to more than 950 million in 2030, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Save The Children is calling on countries to tackle the problem by investing more, introducing laws to remove discrimination and provide better data so the issue can be better understood and governments held accountable.

Sahar’s and Khadra’s names have been changed to protect their identities.

Euronews’ Insiders team will be looking into the issues of forced marriage and female genital mutilation in its next episode, on air at 8:40 pm CET on Friday, October 14.

Every story can be told in many ways: see the perspectives from Euronews journalists in our other language teams.

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