Earlier, I shared this picture from a mass Muslim marriage purported to be of preadolescent brides. Then I looked it up on Snopes and found out that the picture was being misrepresented. It was a picture from a mass Muslim marriage, but not of the brides.
Back in Iran, I was shocked at the young age of the bride at a wedding I was brought to. She was 14. He was 30 something. But I was alone in my shock. Child marriage in Islam was well justified in that Islam’s prophet, Muhammad, had himself married a child by the name of Ayesha. Said Ayesha of this per Sahih Bukhari 5.234
“The Prophet engaged me when I was a girl of six (years). We went to Medina and stayed at the home of Bani-al-Harith bin Khazraj. Then I got ill and my hair fell down. Later on my hair grew (again) and my mother, Um Ruman, came to me while I was playing in a swing with some of my girl friends. She called me, and I went to her, not knowing what she wanted to do to me. She caught me by the hand and made me stand at the door of the house. I was breathless then, and when my breathing became all right, she took some water and rubbed my face and head with it. Then she took me into the house. There in the house I saw some Ansari women who said, “Best wishes and Allah’s Blessing and a good luck.” Then she entrusted me to them and they prepared me (for the marriage). Unexpectedly Allah’s Apostle came to me in the forenoon and my mother handed me over to him, and at that time I was a girl of nine years of age.”
Sahih Bukhari Volume 8, Book 73, Number 151
“I used to play with the dolls in the presence of the Prophet, and my girl friends also used to play with me. When Allah’s Apostle used to enter (my dwelling place) they used to hide themselves, but the Prophet would call them to join and play with me.” (The playing with the dolls and similar images is forbidden, but it was allowed for ‘Aisha at that time, as she was a little girl, not yet reached the age of puberty.) (Fateh-al-Bari page 143, Vol.13)
Sahih Muslim Book 008, Number 3311
“A’isha (Allah be pleased with her) reported that Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) married her when she was seven years old, and he was taken to his house as a bride when she was nine, and her dolls were with her; and when he (the Holy Prophet) died she was eighteen years old.”
The prophet, in case you’re wondering, would have been in his early 50s at that time.
These hadith are among the justifications used for child marriage in Dar Islam. Another is that little girls are more pliable to a man’s control than would be a full-grown independent-minded woman. Fathers of these child brides will also say they feel safer marrying their daughter off prior to the onset of her menses because were she to become pregnant either through dalliance or rape, she would bring shame to her family and have to be killed by him. Mothers, being 2nd class citizens that never reach legal majority, really don’t have any say in the matter but tend to accept it because it is such an old tradition and the alternate options for girls are limited in most of Dar Islam and entirely absent in the rest.
Islamic cultures are not alone in allowing or even encouraging child marriages though. Many others do as well. Religion isn’t usually the reason for any of it though. It’s merely an excuse. The people who marry their children off like this are usually very poor and there is a hefty bride price involved. Another thing they all have in common is limited options and legal protections for girls. Also, marriage in these cultures is consider a business transactions between families and romance is not really a part of that. Nor is it expected. And the bride and groom do not usually have any choice in the matter.
The result of early sex and child birth for girls is often hemorrhaging and vaginal fistula or death in childbirth. This is not to mention an entirely lost childhood and education and opportunities. Early birthing when it is survived will also result in excess population as birth control is another option not given to these girls. All of this results in a perpetuation of already grinding poverty and children being born that cannot be adequately clothed, fed, or educated. Children that, like their child mothers, will have no future worth mentioning.
Things can change though and it is the leaders in these very cultures/nations/communities/religions who can do the most to change it. Some have, in fact, picked up this gauntlet. Just thought I should mention that. Here’s some more on the subject: http://middleeast.about.com/od/humanrightsdemocracy/a/child-brides.htm and a PBS video about it: http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/341/video.html