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Too many child brides

July 23, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
Sometimes I think the world is still in the dark ages. This morning I saw two separate stories on underage marriage in different countries.

Somewhere in Yemen there is an 11-year-old girl named Nada al-Ahdal whose parents tried to force her into marriage with a much older man. She ran away from them to live with an uncle. In a YouTube video that has gotten numerous hits, Nada says she would "rather die" than marry so young and her future would be ruined. What kind of creatures think it's acceptable to marry off a child who has likely barely reached puberty, if she has at all?

This week in Nigeria, the Senate has apparently endorsed legalized underage marriage. The actual bill states that a woman becomes of "full age" and able to renounce her citizenship because she is married. One of the senators is apparently a 49-year-old man who became infamous for marrying a 14-year-old Egyptian girl a few years ago, after first divorcing the 15-year-old he'd married the previous year so he wouldn't have more than four wives at a time. People who favor this sort of marriage tend to say it's permissible under Islamic law, so they think it must be perfectly OK.

According to the story at, one in nine girls in developing countries are married before they turn 15. Those girls are, of course, less likely to finish their educations and more likely to die in childbirth or suffer permanent injuries while giving birth.

Stories like this make me want to contribute any spare change I have to organizations that help these girls get an education or start their own businesses or run away from their families and have a chance to live out their dreams. Unfortunately, I don't think there are enough of them in the world to save all the little girls out there like Nada.


Article Comments



Jul-26-13 11:17 AM

I had a great-aunt by marriage who married at 15, in the 1940s. Yes, it was fairly common for girls to marry in their mid to late teens. If you go back several hundred years, the aristocracy married off some of their daughters before puberty but the actual consummation of the marriage was usually put off until the girl was around 16. I think most people even back then would have thought 11 is criminally young. Henry VII's mother Margaret, to use a royal example, was 13 when she gave birth to him (her husband was considerably older) and her youth was commented upon and frowned upon by contemporaries. She was also unable to have other children.

I do think some of our laws are ridiculously puritanical and punitive, but I have a problem with little girls being forced into marriage against their will, even in countries that consider it perfectly normal.


Jul-26-13 9:03 AM

No, I don't REALLY want to accuse anyone of ethnocentrism, but I find it so hilarious how quickly people are often attacked for critiques such as this column on those very grounds.

But before we go after others for these practices, consider this:

As some of you probably know, I'm a historical enthusiast. This means that, among other things, I often find myself visiting old churches and their cemeteries.

Headstones give stark insights into the practices of yesteryear. Frequently, you will see married couples buried together under the same headstone with dates of birth and date of marriage given. I would be a very wealthy man today if I had a dollar for every time the following thought crossed my mind while viewing headstones,

"Whoa! S/he (the younger spouse) was HOW old when they got married??? If that coupling happened today, s/he (the elder spouse) would be universally denounced as a perv and probably get locked up!"


Jul-26-13 7:08 AM

leftywing, everyone knows you want to be right, but this one you're telling goes just too far....left.

For the record, rape is not ok. Incest is not ok. Abortion is not ok. All three of these actions, whether perpetrated by a righty or a lefty, are not ok. EOS


Jul-25-13 3:38 PM

I would add that I might make exceptions for girls above a certain age, say 15, if it is a cultural practice and they are willingly entering into a marriage with the permission of their parents. I think the Hmong girls in the Twin Cities have traditionally married at 15 or 16 or so, but I think they also finish high school.

My main objection to this sort of thing is the harm it does to a girl's chances of education and career.


Jul-25-13 3:35 PM

Matt, it may well be ethnocentric, but then I'm equally opposed to the American FLDS marrying off 11-year-olds to 40-something year old men. I would assume that most cultures would agree there's something very wrong about little girls being forced into marriage with adult males against their will. Eleven-year-old Nada clearly does not want to marry the old creep her parents were about to force her to marry. Various international organizations also oppose child marriage because these kids don't get an education and are more likely to die or suffer horrific injuries during child birth. Some things are just wrong, even if they are common in other cultures.


Jul-25-13 1:49 PM

Hmm. Do I come in here and accuse Andrea of ethnocentrism, or do I...?

Just a thought.


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