Invisible

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By Radzini Oledan

Slice of Life

Thursday, April 24, 2014


CONSIDER this, a 15 years old child cohabits with a 52 years old man and his wife, performs various household work for the couple and engages in early sex. For her, living with the couple means being able to survive. It is better than staying with her nine other siblings in a cramped shelter with provision that is not enough for their family.

In some communities, parents encourage the early marriage of their daughter in the hope that the arrangement will benefit them both financially and socially, while also relieving financial burden from the family. For most children in this situation, there is hardly a choice.

‘Gusto man nila mama ug papa, tapos mas maayo man pud ang akong kahimtang dinhi,’ Anna (not her real name) says.

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Unable to interact with her peers, Anna is forced to live the life of taking care of a household, and of a man, old enough to be his father. During the time of the interview, Mang Cador was under medication for tuberculosis.

In most cases, the domestic arrangement is considered as an internal matter. The man, after all was better off than the other households and the girl, most neighbors would attest, is better off in her new home.

The assumption is that the girl who lives with a man and takes on the role of a caregiver for him becomes an adult woman, even if she has not yet reached the age of 18.

The right to ‘free and full’ consent to a marriage is recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – with the recognition that consent cannot be ‘free and full’ when one of the parties involved is not sufficiently mature to make an informed decision about a life partner.

With little education, most of the girls and children who go into early marriage go through the cycle of surviving day to day which puts them under precarious condition—required to perform heavy amount of domestic work, and under pressure to engage in sexual activity, most of them face constrained decision making and reduced life choices.

The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women mentions the right to protection from child marriage in article 16, which states: “The betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to Convention on the Rights of the Child, child marriage is linked to other rights – such as the right to express their views freely, the right to protection from all forms of abuse, and the right to be protected from harmful traditional practices .

Aside from being unable to decide for their bodies and the high probablity that it would result to early pregnancy, early arrangements make these girls more likely to believe that it is acceptable for a husband to beat his wife. “Normal man ng madapatan ka kay ingon ana man gyud pag mag minyo,” Anna said, infering her observation from the domestic situation of her parents.

For real reasons, the age gap between this partnership puts most girl-children in a powerless almost defenseless situation. In preventing pregnancy, Anna says that she jumps every after sex to prevent pregnancy. “Dili man daw mabuntis kung muambak kay mawala man ang similya,” she pointed out.

It is clear that lack of knowledge of and even access to modern contraception, and in a situation where they cannot decide for themselves, early marriages makes girls and children ulnerable to abuse. If under a situation of lack of control, children are unable to make a final say on their reproductive health care, household matters, even on what food they want, or if they can go to school and play or interact with their peers, then they have their whole life wasted.

The trouble is these girls, and their situation remain invisible. Email comments to roledan@gmail.com

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on April 24, 2014.

Opinion

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