As we recognize the admirable journeys of diverse female leaders around the world, and conclude the celebration of Women’s History Month, we are quick to assume that this concept of the “ideal woman” includes a wholesome life. From infancy, toddler, pre-teen, teen, and into adulthood, every stage of growth determines the very outcome of a woman’s life.
But what happens when a young girl is forced to become a woman before her time? When she is stripped of her right to grow, feel, make mistakes, and slowly discover the world at her own pace?
As we close out Women’s History Month, we often recall our many fallen champions whom have paved a way for us. From Alice Paul to Rosa Parks, the number of both yesterday and today’s icons deserving of our recognition continues to grow.
But the fellow females who also truly merit and demand our attention in opportunities like these are the ones who did not, and for some still do not, have the privilege to discover themselves through each phase of growth a woman encounters.
When an individual is under the age of 18 and marries, this union is considered a child marriage. And though child marriages often appear to be a detached sensationalized notion only taking place in foreign regions, these occurrences still heavily impact our future generations, both locally and abroad.
Edna Freeman, a Brazilian-American who immigrated to the United States at the age of 15 encountered this devastating hindrance of growth. While in Brazil, she was forced to marry a man 41 years of age, as her parents felt that she would not receive anything better when they discovered she was not a virgin. The husband took her with him to the United States, where immigration initially believed she was his daughter.
“It was not him helping a poor Brazilian girl leaving poverty, it was him buying an alive sex toy and adding to her damage,” said Freeman.
Throughout her years of suffering as a child bride attending to his needs while living in San Francisco, California, when Freeman did have access to money, she would buy Barbies, even though she was nearing her twenties. This reveals the great importance of a girl being allowed to truly thrive in each stage of her life. For if she is not given this critical time of formative growth, the feeling of lack may follow her in her latter years.
While Freeman was fortunately able to escape, grow and heal from such trauma, not ever girl has this story.
According to Human Rights Watch, globally, 15 million girls marry before the age of 18 each year, and one out of every four girls marries before age 18. Although there are minimum age law requirements across the United States for marriage, most being the age of 18, once “parental consent” is included, the fate of a 14, 15 or 16 year old girl can drastically change. States that permit parental consent, which includes California and New York, assert that various efforts of investigation are made before providing judicial approval.
However, how can parents truly allow their child to grow when they are providing marriage consent for girls as young as 14?
The fact that statistics reveal marriages are less likely to end in divorce when the parties marry closer to their thirties, is perhaps no coincidence (Institute of Family Studies). Organizations such as “Girls Not Brides” are working hard to change the system, but loopholes will still have the possibility of affecting a girl’s life, for a lifetime, causing her to become a woman far before her time.
As we cherish the rights of women this month and their vast experiences moving forward, let’s remember to embrace not just every stage we have encountered, but also keep in mind the stages every other girl and woman deserves to walk through as well.
Let's honor those courageous souls who have chosen to prioritize themselves in the face of exploitation. Let's champion those who are currently enduring such exploitations. The journey continues.