Older men are stealing the childhood of girl brides

Rym Ghazal says a video that seems to depict the wedding of an older man and 12-year-old girl is creating a much-needed discussion

A frame from the Kafa video showing an older groom and child bride. (Kafa/ YouTube)
Powered by automated translation

“You are like her grandfather ...” We read about it, we hear about it and we discuss it, but when we actually see a child married to a man old enough to be her grandfather, then that is when it finally hits home how terrible and how real this violation and abuse is.

A video posted online in December last year shows an older man being photographed along the corniche in Beirut with a 12-year-old child in wedding dress and white veil clutching a bouquet of flowers. It is still being picked up by international media and causing anger online.

“I have permission from her parents,” the man tells those who challenge him.

“The parents are criminals,” one person replies. Another says he wants to throw the groom into the sea for what he is doing.

A woman refuses to leave the child with the groom. “It is my business ... she is like my daughter, I will not leave her with you!”

But, there were also some men who came up to the groom and said: “Mabrook” (congratulations). Some wanted a closer look at the “helwa” (pretty) bride.

Thankfully, it was all staged. The bride, groom and wedding photographer are actors. The video was made by Kafa (enough) Violence & Exploitation, a feminist, secular, non-profit, non-government organisation set up in Lebanon in 2005 to campaign for women’s rights.

The video, which has had more than two million views, is called Say #IDONT to child marriage. Kafa is campaigning for the adoption of Article 16 of the United Nation's 1979 Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

In Lebanon, a parent can give their permission for their daughter to marry as young as 9. Without parental permission, girls can marry as young as 14.

I have written articles on child brides in war zones, where the youngest female refugees are the biggest targets of trafficking and exploitation.

I’ve even overheard men in Lebanon ask for “the youngest and prettiest” from a group of Syrian refugees. They are the middle men – vultures hired to feed on others’ desperation and find young brides for men abroad.

However shocking it is, we must discuss this subject because it is a very real issue for thousands of girls in this region as well as parts of Africa and Asia.

According to the International Centre for Research on Women, if present trends continue, 150 million girls will be married before their 18th birthday over the next decade. Despite laws against it, the practice remains widespread, in part because of persistent poverty, conflict and gender inequality. In developing countries, the UN Population Fund estimates that one in three girls is married under 18, and one in nine before she turns 15.

One of the problems is that the children often don’t understand or know what is happening. I only understood years later how wrong it was when a friend and classmate of mine was married back in the 1990s in Saudi Arabia at the age of 14 to a doctor who was about 30. To the rest of us teenagers, he looked tall and handsome and we were all excited for her at the time.

We were told it was the norm as she had reached puberty (just a few months before getting married) and, well, he was a doctor after all and not an old man per se. Many of us had family members who got married very young. Some of them had a child or two by the time they were 15 or 16.

Years later, I caught up with the friend, who had her first of six children when she was 15. She says she is content and happy, but knows she has missed out on a lot of things.

“I wasn’t asked. I was told to do this and reminded how lucky I was to marry such a wealthy and good man,” she said.

When I asked her if she would marry off her own daughter at 14, she said: “No way.”

“I want her to be a child as long as possible. Every child deserves a childhood filled with love, play and innocence.”


On Twitter: @Arabianmau