A burden for many families

Tahmima Anam on early marriage in Bangladesh.

A recent study by the development organization Plan Bangladesh and the nonprofit International Center for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh, showed that 64 percent of women aged 20-24 were married before the age of 18. Early marriage and early motherhood are the cause of a host of social and health problems, from a greater incidence of domestic violence to an increased risk of child and maternal mortality. Young brides stop going to school (according to Unicef, 5.6 million Bangladeshi children have dropped out of education early because of marriage) and thus have fewer opportunities for employment, and, crucially, little knowledge of their rights within marriage.

To the dismay of Bangladeshi NGOs, health workers and activists, the government’s response to this study has been a proposal to lower the legal age of marriage to 16. The minister for women and children’s affairs, Meher Afroz Chumki, commented: “In our country, girls become matured by the age of 14. This may become a burden for many families. If the country allows the parents to marry their daughters off at young age, many social problems may cease to exist as well.”

Oy. No, in Bangladesh and any other country girls don’t “become matured” by the age of 14. Some reach puberty by that age, or earlier, but puberty≠maturity. Maturity is alas completely different from puberty and comes much later (and gradually as opposed to all at once). The prefrontal cortex doesn’t finish developing until age 25, to cite just one index.

The putative “burden” of course is that the daughter might start fucking, and thus destroy the family’s “honor.” That’s why early marriage is considered a fix. It’s all about the fucking, and nothing else.

The minister for health and family affairs, Zahid Maleque, confused matters further by insisting that the problem was elopement, claiming that “rural adolescent girls run away from home to get married.” What united the two officials was the idea of an adolescent girl whose sexual maturity is a danger to her family, and of marriage as a way to control female sexual behavior. This, rather than a system that limits choices for young women, was the problem in their view.

Girls are seen as a contaminant to get rid of, which is depressing in itself, even before we get to the consequences.

The responsibility of our elected officials should be to protect young women from regressive customs that limit their potential, not change the rules to massage government statistics. Despite the politicians’ inadequate response, the future looks promising: Studies show that the rate of early marriage is declining. But we have a long way to go to reverse the age-old assumption that an adolescent girl is a problem to which the solution is marriage.

It’s time for a Year of the Girl, I think.


  1. John Wasson says

    “many social problems may cease to exist”, Minister Meher Afroz Chumki. Wrong.

    There are positive social spinoffs from education for girls: a better life for the woman generally because she can better assess and control her future, the contributions an educated person can make to society, a more successful and likely smaller family from later marriage because an educated woman will have better control of sexual behavior, … etc, etc.

    There’s pride and honor in educated offspring.

  2. Blanche Quizno says

    There’s pride and honor in educated offspring.

    There’s also the problem of women, once educated, asserting themselves, disobeying, refusing to submit, and demanding equal rights. Oh, won’t SOMEBODY think of the men? And their poor, delicate honor??

  3. Katydid says

    Remember, right here in the USA, the Duck Dynasty bozos are calling for marriage of girls no older than 15, because by 18 they’re people with their own minds. They also believe the father must pick the husband. And that girls should be “homeschooled” (to further limit their education). How are they any different from the culture in Afghanistan?

    Remember that these losers speak to large groups who approve their message.

  4. johnthedrunkard says

    The whole notion that ‘girls grow up faster than boys’ is insane. 14 years is 14 years, with or without puberty. If anyone resists this observation, ask them to consider ‘marrying off’ 15 year old boys.

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