In the world, the alarm over the "child brides” continues. The highest percentage of young people given in marriage before age 15 is recorded in some African countries such as Niger and Chad, followed by Bangladesh, Mali, Ethiopia and Guinea. Each year, 10 million the girls are married before age 18: according to the figure provided by "Plan International", an NGO that after so many years is working again in Italy, has been dealing with this issue for years, trying to convince the families to make the children to study instead marrying them off, most often for economic reasons. Tiziana Fattori, national director of Plan International Italy, speaks about this:
R. - Poor families see in the marriage of the child, first of all, the solution to the problem of too many mouths to feed. So, when a girl given in marriage, the family no longer has the task of taking care of her. Unfortunately, the bride may also be given in marriage to a creditor. Since girls and women are considered inferior beings, deprived of the rights that men have, they are also given in marriage to creditors of a community, who are perhaps much older than the child. There are cases of children, between 8 and 10 years old, given in marriage to men of 50-55, in order to settle or pay off debts. D. - This phenomenon of child brides is independent of the religion: that’s what you have found… R. - Yes, it is independent from religion. In some of the countries involved, the Muslim religion is wide-spread, in others Christianity. This may concern distant, rural communities, who live according to the traditions, habits and customs where it is accepted, for example, to pay a debt by giving one’s daughter in marriage. Often, the father is the one who takes this decision. It’s not considered an economic advantage to keep the child in the family and to send her to school, and this is the main battle facing Plan International in all countries where it is working. We prove that, in countries where families are given the opportunity to educate their daughters, the percentage of early marriages decreases. Encouraged by this finding, we want to offer girls the opportunity to study, by showing to the father the economic benefit of sending his daughter to school, since once after studying the child will be able to work and so produce income that will enrich the family. The father will then see the education of his daughter as a good investment, and certainly will not give her in marriage as a child. D. - The shocking fact is that a child is given in marriage every three seconds, and in some cases the bride is only five years old. So, considering the immense age difference between these girls and the husbands chosen for them, what are the effects? R. - The negative consequences are especially concern their health, because they have difficult pregnancies. Our findings are shocking: girls between 15 and 19 years of age are twice more likely to die in childbirth than girls who have reached age 20. That’s not all: infants born to mothers who are under 18 years unfortunately are 60% more likely to die during the first year of life and, if they do survive they nevertheless have serious problems of malnutrition and cognitive delays. D. – There are also serious cases of sexual violence against these girls, true case of rape… R. - Yes, they are daily subjected to violence by the husband. In some interviews, the girl says: “I was married when I was 8-9 years old to a man who was 40-45; in fact, he brought me up.” There is, then, this unhealthy relationship with a husband who becomes father and then controls the lives of these girls who for example not performing all the household chores, according to criteria established by her husband, suffer daily violence and abuse. D. - One of the consequences of these forced marriages is suicide. You have found that many of these girls have sadly committed suicide… R. - Unfortunately, yes, because of the weight of a life without prospects, there is above all, in our opinion, even the pain of having to give up dreams. Let‘s say that the pain of this decision imposed on them leads many to choose to take their own life, and this represents the peak of an unacceptable situation for the world community. D. - In fact, these countries have rules to try to protect minors, such small girls: are these laws disregarded or in some cases do they not exist? R. - In many cases, the laws are there, but strategies are used to circumvent them. For example: the age of the child is falsified so that she can be married off. If in a certain country, the law provides that in the child must be 15 before she can be given in marriage; here three or four years are added to make girls who are 10-12 years old reach the minimum age. Plan International came back to Italy two months ago, after a 50-year absence, and we opened our office in Milan, because we want to involve mainly Italians, especially Italian women, in our campaign that aims, over the next five years, to give at least four million girls a chance to study.