Child marriages are rampant in this world, particularly in the under-developed and developing nations. It is not limited to one race, culture or religion but is a product of poverty and lack of opportunities. More often than not though, it is simply a practice of oppression, dictated by money, call it dowry in Hindu tradition and mehr in Islamic tradition. I, as a Muslim woman, will address forced child marriages from the perspective of Islam, and those occurring in Muslim communities.
- The individual needs to be of sound mind, of age.
- The woman needs to consent to the marriage.
- The groom has to give the bride a mehr, which in tradition translates to whatever the woman wishes - money, clothing, a book, pots and pans, which she gets to keep, and not for her parents to take.
Forced marriages of girls and young women in immigrant communities are also taking place in Western societies like the U.K. and in America. This is not out of financial desperation but out of preventing the daughter into succumbing to "Western decadence" or becoming Americanized. It is ironic that it is the Muslim and non-Muslim citizens of Western societies who are living up to the Islamic values of defending children and women's rights. And in Muslim majority countries, Muslim human rights organizations that fight against child marriages are accused of Western influences.
What is Western about it when the Quran (4:19) clearly states: "You are forbidden to inherit women against their will, and you should not treat them with harshness"?
What I don't understand is how it is possible that 1,400 years later, Muslims are still ignorant what the Quran states about the protection of children and the rights of women. Why did we allow for a culture that perpetuates misogyny and oppression of women to flourish? Why do we allow the convenient framing of it as "Islamic" by men who can't imagine women as equals and women who sadly buy into this farce?
To the Islamophobes I say: Yes, you will relish this piece as vindication of your twisted understanding of Islam and will completely dismiss the poverty, the cultural perspectives because that is simply too nuanced for your black and white prism, and requires too much thinking capacity.
To non-Muslims in the Western societies especially the U.S. government: To be "culturally sensitive" in a multi-cultural society is all good, but not when it upends a child's rights. Yes we should concern ourselves with forced marriages, do what we can to nip this practice, but let's take care of this issue in our own backyard and legislate laws criminalizing forced marriages here in the U.S.
To the Muslims I say: It is time for lay-leaders, clerics and religious judges who flagrantly contradict the Quran to be by-passed as irrelevant and pariahs of our society. They should instead be forced to answer: Why are they defending an oppressive pre-Islamic culture?