A group of male peer mentors in Lebanon has come together to educate other men on the damage of marrying off their daughters at a young age.
Centered in West Bekaa, Lebanon, nine male mentors have been chosen by the U.N. Population Fund to host discussions and training sessions that will encourage other men to evaluate the existing gender roles in their home country and help further eliminate child marriages.
“Too often, men alone make decisions regarding the priority of the couple and/or the households, which perpetuates traditional gender roles and power imbalances,” said a spokesperson from UNFPA. “To address these inequalities, men, male youth and boys have a critical role to play. Promoting gender equality cannot be done without the active involvement of men, male youth and boys.”
Studies show that young women who are married off too young are more likely to contract HIV, are more susceptible to domestic violence and marital rape, and have high-risk pregnancies that could result in death during childbirth.
Adnan Ghazi, a member of the mentoring group challenging the deep-seated tradition of child marriages, says that despite fathers believing that marrying off their young daughters will provide relief from economic hardships, the action does more harm than good to the child.
“You see marriage as a coping mechanism, but it doesn’t work,” Ghazi explains. “Marry your child at 14 years old and she loses her education. You think you’re solving your economic burden, but your children are suffering.”
A 2002 study found that psychiatric disorders were higher for women who were married as children, compared to women who were married as adults. According to Girls Not Brides, the impact on girls after being married off too young was that they were more prone to being isolated, restricted, and disempowered.
“I was so happy on my wedding day. I wore a beautiful white dress and felt so special,” said Fatima, wife of mentor Ghassan Idriss. “But I didn’t know what was waiting for me. Life was so hard after that. The kids, my husband’s demands, the housework – I couldn’t handle the responsibilities. I went from joyous to very, very sad.”
Recently, there are have been various legislations targeted toward child-rearing. A March 2017 draft law introduced by a member of Parliament was designed to set the minimum age for marriage at 18. In August of last year, Lebanese lawmakers voted to abolish Article 522, which essentially gave rapists a loophole to avoid prosecution so long as they married their victims.
The mentoring program against childhood marriages is expected to continue rolling out within the next three years. 200 men will be trained by UNFPA to be peer leaders in their local communities.
Discussions will be centered around educating fathers of the emotional, psychological, and physical damage that child marriages can inflict on young girls. Alleviating a temporary economic problem is not reason enough to marry off daughters young. Instead, it strips girls of their freedom and fundamental right to education, according to News Deeply.
“A Lebanese man proposed to my daughter, but she wasn’t interested and that is her decision,” Idriss said. “She tells me about the U.N. scholarships she wants to apply for. Who am I to stop her? She should – and does – demand more.”
Young girls should be given the right to choose who and when to marry, as well as whether or not they want to pursue more of their education. A fundamental human right is having the freedom to choose what path to take in life. No one should be denied that, especially children.
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