As I watched this new TakePart documentary telling the stories of Brishti’s and Razia‘s experiences of child marriage in Bangladesh, it struck me to see how climate change can be connected to modern slavery. The devastating effect on particularly rural populations, leaves young girls vulnerable to child marriage, especially when parents can no longer afford to look after their families. We hear Brishti and Razia discuss the challenges they faced when their parents made the decision to marry them at age 14. For these girls, poverty caused by climate change led to their parents coercing them to marry before they were even 16.
For me, this raises an important question – when is child marriage slavery?
Child marriage happens in many places around the world. In fact, about 10% of the global population has been married before they turn 18.1 And while some of these marriages are driven by mutual choice and respect, in other cases, particularly when one party has been forced into the marriage, exploitation and coercion within the marriage can make it synonymous with slavery. When factors such as poverty and the environment are present, distinguishing the point at which child marriage becomes child slavery is tricky.
At Walk Free, we look for a number of indicators that help us decide when child marriage is slavery. For example when a child is given in marriage against his or her will; is subjected to control, a sense of “ownership” through abuse and threats, and is exploited for their labour and/or non-consensual sexual activity once within a marriage; and the inability of a child to leave a marriage he or she no longer wishes to remain in. The younger a child is, the more vulnerable they are to being enslaved through the practice of child marriage. When you watch this video, do you think these girls are in slavery?
Unfortunately, it’s not just girls in Bangladesh like Brishti and Razia who are struggling with the pressures of forced marriage brought about by climate change. It affects many others around the world too. In Niger, 76% of girls are married before they’re 18 – the threat of climate change and poverty can tie a girl’s fate even more tightly to an early marriage. One of our current campaigns addresses forced child marriage in Niger, and to the right of this page, you can sign our petition calling on the Government of Niger to raise the minimum age of marriage for girls to 18.
Please take a minute to stand alongside girls at risk of slavery and sign our petition.
Advocacy Director, Walk Free
- http://www.fairobserver.com/interview/a-conversation-on-child-marriage-with-amnesty-international-11402/ ↩