Fifteen-year-old Maryam from Pakistan is one of 9 girls from rural communities Plan is supporting who have travelled to New York to share the harsh realities of their lives at the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) meeting over the next week. This was her speech given at Plan’s Breaking “Vows – Ending Early and Forced Marriage” panel.
Good afternoon everybody. My name is Maryam from Pakistan and I am a representative of all girls of my community and country.
In our country early and forced marriages are very common. Average age of marriage of a girl is 15 to 16 and often it happens that girls get married at the age of 13 to 14.
I have much fortune that my parents are well aware and that is why I am not married. My parents know the effects of early marriage on a girl as well as on her life after marriage. That is why they have not forced me to get married.
There are many examples in my community but I want to share the stories of two girls.
One girl, who we will call Shazia, is only 14 years old…
She belongs to a poor family. Her father is a laborer and she has two sisters and one brother. She is now going to get married because her parents think that this is her suitable age to get married because they can’t afford her expenses so she has left her school and is now doing the preparation of her marriage.
When I asked her, ‘Are you happy with parents decision?’ she told me that she is happy of her parents’ decision. ‘My parents make a good decision for me,’ she said, ‘and I am hopeful that my husband will permit me to get education after marriage.’ She said that her brothers are going to school and it’s a miserable condition that she cannot.
Now the question is, is she too young and unable to think about herself?
Will her parents give dowry and many other things to her at her marriage ceremony?
Does she have hopes that after marriage she will get education and will spend a happy life?
But it is not certain that things will happen as she is thinking and that her parents will be responsible for her, whatever happens in her life after her marriage.
The other one story is about a girl we shall call Praveen
Praveen is 12 years old. She lives in a nearby village.
Praveen’s parents arranged for her to marry a man who is 32 years old. The girl was sent to live with the man’s family as his wife, even though she did not know the meaning of the word ‘marriage’.
Praveen was too young, with a childish mind and thinking. She liked to play with toys in her husband’s house. These were the toys belonging to the grandchildren of her parents-in-law.
Praveen’s mother in law was not very good to her. She got angry when Praveen played and complained to Praveen’s father that she often eats the tomatoes she is meant to be cooking for the family.
After 3 months of marriage, Praveen’s husband decided to divorce. He was angry with her. She was too innocent and unable to adapt to her husband and his family. Even though she was 12 years old, Praveen’s parents blamed her for the divorce. In the community it is the girls’ fault if she divorces, not the man’s.
After the divorce, Praveen was sent back to live with her parents where she weeps and remains sad. At the age of 12, she does not know the meaning of marriage and divorce has ruined her life. Now her parents feel she is a burden and want to marry her away again as soon as possible.
I think that early marriage stops the mental, physical and educational growth of the girls and they are not able to participate in the development and progress of their family life as well as country and community.
I will work in my community to help reduce the rate of girls who are affected by early and forced marriages. I will give them awareness, conduct meetings with them, share experience with them and discuss with them in simple language.
My recommendations are:
· Parents and families should be educated and aware of what will happen after marriage.
· Surrounding environment should be supportive.
· Parents trust on girls is always important role in girl’s life.
· Enough resources should be there for families.
Parents, families and girls may think marriage sounds charming, because they can get new clothes, but they should keep in mind the hard realities of what early and forced marriage brings. The dream will be broken.