Taylor Swift’s iconic song, Fifteen, is filled with many relatable lows and woes of a teenage girl: “’Cuz when you’re fifteen and somebody tells you they love you, you’re gonna believe them.” Fifteen is a time to giggle over crushes, have late-night sleepovers with your best friend, and roll your eyes at the ‘incredible amount’ of homework your freshman year teachers give you (wait until college, kids).
However, while Taylor Swift’s song may be relatable to many girls in the United States, girls in India deal with very different problems happening at this stage in their life. Girls in India aren’t worried if their crush likes them back or if their parents are going to let them get an Iphone—they’re worried about getting married.
Although it’s illegal, 47% of girls in India are married before they turn 18 (the legal age to marry). In 1929, the Indian government passed a law prohibiting marrying younger than 12 years old. Since 1978, that age has been raised to 18 years old. And yet, India still has the highest number of child bries in the world, and boasts a statistic of 1 in 3 child marriages around the world occurring in India. In fact, India is one of the few places where child marriage isn’t just surviving—it’s thriving. Each year over 10 million girls under the age of 18 are married off.
Why does this happen?
Although there is no single cause for child marriages, some major influences include poverty, patriarchal oppression, and weak law enforcement. According to Girls Not Brides, girls are considered an “economic burden.” Marriage shifts that responsibility from the parents to the husband and his family. Girls are still viewed as a property that can be traded to the highest bidder, since they themselves cannot make money for the family.
Due to the lack of educational opportunities available for women, girls are unable to bring an income and prove their worth to their family. Even a girl who is able to receive an education, despite all the barriers, would only worsen her situation in the long run– since families must pay a larger dowry for a girl who is older and more educated. Although dowries have technically been illegal since the Dowry Prohibition Act in 1961, most communities ignore this act. The older and more educated a girl is, the larger the dowry a family must pay. To avoid these costs, they marry their daughters as young as possible.
The Problems with Child Marriages
Besides the general wrongness about this entire issue, there are more problems under the surface about child marriages in India. The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) discovered that girls who married before 18 years old were twice as likely to be beaten or threatened by their husbands than girls who married later. These young girls are also more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth, lose their child before it is born, be infected with HIV, and go through multiple abortions (India’s Innocent: Secret Weddings of Child Brides).
The young girls have little to no choice in the matter. They can only delay the inevitable for so long, before their parents send them to their husband’s home. However, that home feels less like a home and more like a prison for most young girls. These girls are forced to perform menial chores and abide by everything their in-laws tell them. “She tells me there is no life after marriage,” says Nimmu, in reference to her older sister. “She has no freedom. She has to do everything her in-laws say.” (Why This Child Bride Needs Good Grades).
Early marriage also limits a girl’s ability to get an education. An education could help lift a girl out of poverty or prove her worth to her family. According to BBC’s article What Is It Like To Be A Child Bride?, there are some girls who refuse to marry and take up working instead. “I don’t think my parents want to marry me off now,” one girl told the BBC reporter. “They think, ‘Our daughter makes a lot of money, and she is helping us’.”
How You Can Help
There are many organizations that seek to end child marriages by promoting female education in India and other countries. By supporting these organizations through awareness and donations, you can help save a young girl from the side effects of early child marriages. Girlsnotbrides.org has opportunities to donate money to give girls bikes to attend schools, empower adolescent girls, and educate them about the effects of child marriage.
Whether you’re fifteen or fifty-five, you’re never too old or too young to make a difference. These girl’s lives are on the line, and it’s up to us to help make their youth a little more like Taylor Swift and a little less like the reality they’re currently facing.