“THE WELL-BEING OF A CHILD”

Dear Editor,

It is a travesty (but perhaps no surprise) that our Senators are more concerned about upholding patriarchal values than they are with the wellbeing of a child. Rather than question the logic behind the number "14", they should be questioning whether at 14 years of age, if the child is mentally, physically and emotionally prepared for marriage.  

More than 100 countries, including the United States, have laws allowing girls younger than 18 to marry. However, the international human rights standards sets the minimum age of marriage at 18 years old. There are strong arguments in support of raising the age to 18. 

Child marriages create a myriad of problems linked to poor physical and health development, and a negative impact on educational opportunities. According to the Pew Research Center, child marriages in the United States are rare, but disproportionately affect girls more than boys. This is also true in many other countries as well. 

The perceived notion is that girls are of less value than boys, thereby perpetuating gender discrimination. 

Studies have shown that child marriage greatly reduces the likelihood of girls completing secondary education. Loss of education also corresponds with lower earning opportunities."When girls are educated, their countries become stronger and more prosperous." 

Child brides also have a greater exposure to violence such as marital rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence. And at such a young age where they are still developing a sense of agency, they are less likely to report their abuse to authorities or family members.  

When a young girl gets pregnant, our first instincts shouldn’t be to marry her off to protect the family honor, instead we should be questioning how can we protect this young mother and her unborn child. What resources can we provide her with to ensure she has access to health services, and continues her education?

I also find it extremely disheartening that in this debate on child marriages, there is a glaring absence from advocates and organizations targeted at empowering youth and women. Laws such as these, which have the ability to stifle the potential of our youth, should be called into question and challenged. There is no excuse for your silence.

 Respectfully,

R. Leotele Togafau Mata'utia

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