Sarah Sheppard

Global Rescue Relief

Let girls be girls... not brides

It's not unusual for young girls to fantasize about their wedding day – the long white dress made with lace trim, the delicate pastries covered in pink sugar flowers, couples dancing under fairy lights.

In the United States, the wedding industry is often considered glamorous. Young women pin ideas for flower arrangements, bridesmaid dresses, and DIY projects to Pinterest. Brides spend months enjoying everything from the engagement party and the wedding shower to the lavish bridesmaid weekend and the actual “big day”.

When we think of a wedding, we often think of a happy couple walking down a flower-filled aisle, surrounded by supportive family and friends. We don’t often think about the many girls and young women who are forced into marriage. It’s not fun for them. Marriage is more like a prison sentence.

There’s no celebration, there’s no white dress, and there’s no bridal glow.  

One third of the world’s girls are married before the age of 18 and one in nine are married before the age of 15. These girls don’t choose to be married and they certainly don’t choose their groom. Marriage should be a basic human right; a choice that we make, and yet this right is often violated and for what? For a little extra money? For one less mouth to feed?

In Nujood Ali’s memoir “I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced,” she writes of the beginning of her arranged marriage:

“I had to adjust quickly to a new life. I had no right to leave the house, no right to complain, no right to say no. During the day, I had to obey my mother-in-law’s orders: cut up the vegetables, wash the floor, do the dishes. Whenever I stopped for a moment, my mother-in-law pulled my hair.”

Read that quote again. She “had no right.” Suddenly a childhood full of opportunity, playfulness, and potential is completely destroyed by a quick exchange of money and a marriage certificate.

Most of these girls who are married off don’t know anything about marriage, and they certainly don’t know about sex, birth control, pregnancy, or parenthood. Imagine having sex when you’re still learning what it is. Imagine taking care of an older man and falling asleep next to him not knowing if he’ll touch you, beat you, or demoralize you. When a girl’s family, her education, and her freedoms are taken away, what’s left of her?

Child marriages are happening every day all over the world. In Southeast Asia, almost one in three adolescent girls is currently married or in union. “In union” refers to cohabitation in which a couple lives together under the same roof as if married and is just as traumatizing as an arranged marriage.

The International Center for Research on Women and many other organizations including Girls Not Brides, CARE, Girls UP, Humanium: Help the Children, Saarthi Trust are working tirelessly to prevent child marriage, but it’s a problem that’s been going on for thousands of years. History, religion, and generational tradition have led to the ongoing issue. Consider Marie Antoinette who was married at the age of 15 and Aisha who was married to Muhammed at the age of 9.

Nujood Ali was exceptionally brave and extremely lucky to request and be granted a divorce. Most girls will never have the opportunity to divorce their husbands and even if they did, what are the chances they would take it? The sad reality is that fear has the overwhelming power to destroy any chance of hope.

In order to prevent these marriages and keep girls safe, we need to offer opportunities. We need to give girls a good education and the chance to pursue a career.  We need to create safe communities where these girls feel comfortable in their environments. We need to enforce laws preventing men and families from marrying girls younger than 18, and most importantly, we need to offer support in the form of networks, organizations, and groups. It’s important to empower and impel girls so they may recognize their rights, their worth, and their freedoms.

Every girl deserves to have her dream wedding, if she wants it. Until then, let girls be girls.



Quote taken from I Am Nujood: Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoui. Available from Broadway Books, an imprint for the Crown Publishing Group. Copyright © 2010.

The International Center for Research on Women:

UNICEF (Children’s Rights & Emergency Relief Organization):