16 years old is the minimum legal age for a girl to marry in Afghanistan. Yet, Yasmin was only 8 years old when her family gave her in marriage to a 60-year-old man. When Yasmin eventually fled, she was arrested. Pregnant at the time, Yasmin was forced to give birth in prison.
16 is also the minimum legal age for a girl to marry in Washington, DC (with parental consent), and the District is one of a handful of U.S. jurisdictions where forced marriage is a crime. Yet, we recently brought you the story of a thirteen-year-old girl who arrived in the U.S. only to be forced into a marriage with a much older man. Her new husband enrolled her in a Washington D.C. area school by saying he was her father, only to rape her every night when she came home.
From a child bride’s perspective, the legal validity of her marriage may be of little consequence if her husband, parents and in-laws endorse the validity of the union. Her tender years will not protect her from their expectations and demands that she consummate the marriage, bear children, and perform all of the duties of an adult wife and mother. The power dynamics characteristic of early marriages where the husband is significantly older leave many child brides without the sway to negotiate for abstinence, safe sex or control over their reproductive activities. Geography, likewise, has little bearing on the suffering of a child bride trapped in a forced marriage to a much older man. Notwithstanding the relative availability of protective laws and resources from one place to the next, the harmful consequences that befall a child bride before help arrives vary little whether she resides in the U.S. capital or Afghanistan’s. Advocates and policymakers leading both countries’ nascent efforts to eliminate harmful marriage practices must place heavy emphasis on early detection and prevention.
READ MORE: Husband, 60, Wife, 8, By Rebecca Murray, IPS (December 29, 2011).