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Robbed of childhood

A little girl in India, dressed as a bride, waits for her groom.

Be it going to school, playing with friends or listening to stories from your grandparents- all these memories of childhood bring a profound feeling of happiness. But everyone is not fortunate enough. For hundreds of girls throughout the world childhood comes to an end sooner than it should. These girls get married, look after their husband’s household and bear children at a time when they should be going to school. Many of them are forced. Others are bound by tradition. Very few have a courage say ‘No.’ Some are too young to understand the meaning of marriage. One among hundreds of these girls is Nuran Joerissen, a family therapist who lives in Bonn, Germany. What made Nuran different from others is that she had the courage to stand up and live her dreams.

Nuran was 14 when she got married. She says that it was her mother who forced her. “This man was a relative of my mother and my mother had given him her word,” says Nuran. She lived in Germany with her parents at that time. Her parents took her to Turkey, their home country, for vacations. For Nuran, the holiday turned out to be a nightmare. Her parents had planned to get her married in Turkey. She resisted initially but had to give in after her mother motivated her.

After getting married, Nuran tried to be a good wife. “I thought it was something I have to do anyway. I thought being a woman it was my duty,” says Nuran. But after some time, as she grew up, she felt that she was not living the life she wanted to live. “It was becoming difficult to sacrifice my desires for my husband. I had to leave school because of him. I had to sacrifice my childhood because of him,” she says.  “I was 14 and I had to act like a 30 year old woman,” she adds. When she turned 19, she gathered courage to leave her husband. At that time she was a mother of two sons.

She says, “I did it because I noticed that I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do. I was not even able to finish school.” Her family was upset with her decision to leave her husband. She had to face hard times, live on her own and look after her children. But nothing could stop her. She went back to school and studied hard. Today she is a successful family therapist in Germany.

There are laws against child marriage in many countries, but an estimated 51 million girls under 18 years of age are currently married.  According to a UNICEF report, maternal deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth are an important component of mortality for girls aged 15–19 worldwide, who account for 70,000 deaths each year. If a mother is under the age of 18, her infant’s risk of dying in its first year of life is 60 percent greater than that of an infant born to a mother older than 19. According to the report, child brides are at risk of violence, abuse and exploitation. This is not all. Child marriage forces girls to leave school. It results in separation from friends. It takes away the freedom of childhood. It can have an adverse effect on the physical and mental well-being of a girl.

Every girl is not as brave a Nuran. Most who are robbed of their childhood sacrifice without saying a word. Some try to resist but fail. Once bound by marriage, they are forced to forget their dreams and desires. Child marriage, a major human rights violation, has been discussed and debated many times.  But girls themselves need to be daring like Nuran and the laws and civil society need to stand up for girls who are too young to speak for themselves.

Author: Ronaq Zahoor

Editor: Manasi Gopalakrishnan


29.11.2012 | 10:18