Thursday, December 20, 2007

UNICEF Photo of the Year

Is this one:

Stephanie Sinclair took it in Afghanistan. The couple in the picture are going to get married. He is forty years old, she is eleven.

Child brides are not uncommon in this world, and neither are child mothers, despite the fact that having children early is a very dangerous business.

What drives this custom? It may have once been necessitated by a short and brutal life and the need to leave progeny even under those conditions. But today it probably has more to do with the low value placed on daughters and the desire to get rid of them early in order to avoid the expense of feeding and educating them. The parents of Ghulam, the girl in the picture, also needed money, and she was what they had to offer in exchange for it.

Our views about childhood have a strong cultural component. An eleven-year-old girl is a child in our eyes but a woman, ready to be married, in the eyes of someone else. There was a time when the Europeans held those views of children, too, seeing them as miniature adults. Upper class families would marry their children off whenever it was most economically and politically convenient, even in the cradle. But I doubt that those marriages were consummated until much, much later.

The above paragraph does not mean that I see nothing wrong in that picture. Children are not psychologically or physically ready for marriage, and the early marriage age of girls mostly dooms them to a life of no education and few opportunities for any improvement. I'm just trying to avoid "othering" the Afghanis, because doing so will not improve the lives of girls like Ghulam.