ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Violence against women reaches far beyond outright domestic abuse. Traditional practices in some African and Middle Eastern countries call for the mutilation, forced marriage and killing of women in the name of honor. These acts of violence are deeply ingrained in the culture of certain groups and have proven quite difficult to eradicate.
The Ford Foundation produced a report in 2013 on the state of child marriages in West Africa. According to the report, 49 percent of girls under 19 are already married, making West Africa the region with the highest rates of child marriage on the continent.
Some marriages can occur for girls as young as nine, long before they are physically and mentally prepared for marriage and motherhood.
Child marriages are often justified by these communities as religious or cultural responsibilities.
However, the Ford Foundation explained that in developing countries, children may be considered financial burdens. Marriage provides a way to evade the cost of raising a child to adulthood, and some marriages, depending on the wealth of the husband, may provide income for the bride’s family.
Women are also targeted for honor killings in some cultures. In Pakistan, a bride’s father and brother killed a newlywed couple in June 2014.
“Such killings often originate from tribal traditions in Pakistan and usually happen in rural areas,” CNN reported. “Bystanders, including police, don’t often interfere because the killings are considered to be family matters.”
Honor killings, while less common than child marriages, still affect some 5,000 women each year.
The response from a rural Indian community after the honor killing of a young couple in 2013 points out the stark cultural differences that exist even within the borders of a single country.
“The ‘decadent western’ culture of urban India… conflicted with the old, traditional values of rural India, where falling in love is taboo,” said Villagers to the BBC.
On the other hand, the Ford Foundation found that West Africans saw nothing unusual about child marriages.
“The failure to view early marriage as a problem is chiefly what accounts for its persistence,” said the foundation, which recommends providing protection to girls bound to child marriage by religious law.
Most programs that exist to promote education of girls and women’s rights rarely confront the concept of eliminating child marriages.
The Ford Foundation recommended “codifying provisions to protect girls against forced marriage in customary and Sharia law and to sensitize community judges in those systems.”
Additionally, incorporating education about child rights and having government’s act in the best interests of the child are suggested, among other ideas.
The United Nations Population Fund aims to eliminate child marriage as a part of the Millennium Development Goals. This mission will become a high priority post-2015, after collecting data on where girls are most at risk.
The United Nations still struggles with the issue of honor killings, as many communities believe that “family violence is placed outside the conceptual framework of international human rights.”
However, the U.N. asserts that such acts are “an extreme symptom of discrimination against women, which is a plague that effects every country.”
– Bridget Tobin