I was watching “The Jungle Book” last night, enjoying the classic tunes and reliving my childhood. At the end Mowgli saw the new hitherto unknown “woman” and was enchanted by her singing and glittery eyes. I had never paid any attention to the girl before, but I actually listened to the lyrics of her song this time, “Then I will have a handsome husband, and a daughter of my own. And I’ll send her to fetch the water, I’ll be cooking in the home.” I chortled out loud and thought, “It’s rural India, and the movie came out in 1967 when the legal age of marriage in India was 12 years—chances are, Mowgli, she’s already taken.” Mowgli was probably pretty disappointed when he found out that his crush was married, and now there is an uneven sex ratio in India that is definitely not in his favor and today he probably would have little chance of being married due to lack of family presence, no funds and no available women. He should have listened to Baloo and gone back to the jungle. It was at this moment I realized that WomanStats had probably ruined my blissful ignorance of the reality being dismissed in Disney movies. But, they can inspire further blog posts.
Child marriage is a worldwide phenomenon, and according to UNICEF’s The State of the World’s Children 2009, 49% of all women in the least developed countries are being married before the age of 18. As I investigated further I found some very bleak numbers; 82% of women in Niger, 75% in Bangladesh, 63% in Nepal, 57% in India and 50% in Uganda marry before 18 (International center for research on women Child marriage by the numbers pamphlet). Child marriage not only deprives these young girls of their childhood, but also has serious consequences on their future and their family’s future.
The amount of education a girl receives is the strongest predictor of when she will be married; the more education a woman receives the longer she will push off marriage. When girls are married young, generally she stops going to school because now she has the responsibilities to the home and to bear children. Often these new responsibilities are mutually exclusive to continuing education. It is essential for girls to be educated to become better wives and mothers. Children of educated mothers have higher survival rates, tend to be better nourished and immunized.
Health is a major concern for child wives. Young mothers experience much higher rates of maternal mortality and morbidity than women who give birth in their 20s; their bodies are not developed enough to handle childbirth safely. Not only the mother’s life but also the infant’s life are at very high risks due to the mother’s age. A growing concern for child marriage is the higher risk of HIV/AIDS infection. A child bride generally has unprotected sex with her husband, who by virtue of being older and more experienced could already be a carrier of HIV. In many countries that practice child marriage, notably sub-Saharan Africa, HIV prevalence rates among women 15-24 years old are two to eight times higher than men in the same age group (UNIFEM report “The Implications of early marriage for HIV/AIDS policy” 2004). Child brides, who do not have a high level of general education, often do not have enough information about their reproductive rights, which leads to unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, early childbearing and contraction of STDs such as HIV/AIDS.
After seeing all the negative consequences of child marriage, it would seem that the obvious solution would be to end it. Although legal action has been taken in many countries where this practice is prevalent, it is to no avail. Such practices are deeply entrenched in many societies and thus the cycle of child brides is hard to break. The girl in The Jungle Book sings about her duties as a daughter to fetch the water and her mother’s duties to cook. In the second refrain she sings about how her duties will be the same as her mother’s to cook and her daughter will fetch the water. This shows her mindset is that what her mother does, she will do and her daughter will follow suit. This idea of the infallibility of traditions is what continues horrid practices such as child marriage. If only the Mowgli’s crush, and other young girls, could sing about how instead of staying and cooking in the home, they will go out and get an education and become self-sufficient before consciously making the decision to seek a “handsome husband,” then the vicious cycle of child marriage can be broken.
There are many organizations seeking to do this very thing, and many have been successful in their endeavors. To learn more about what is being done and what you can do to stop child marriage you can visit some of these websites: