The story in September of Nisha, the nine-year-old girl who was raped and killed touched most of us and the question everyone asked was, “Who would do such a thing?” If you have daughters around the same age, you probably hugged them tighter on the day you heard the news. And gave them a lecture on not wandering away from home.
So it is difficult to wrap my head around the story of Rawan, the eight-year-old in Yemen who suffered injuries and died on the day of her “wedding day”. I can’t help thinking about the parents who gave their daughter to a man, who is five times her age.
I am not a parent but I have a little sister, who is only three years older than Rawan was. She may be taller than me but her innocence is that of a child. As it should be. She giggles when she hears the word sex and covers her eyes if a scene in a movie even suggests that a couple is about to kiss. At the end of the day, her biggest problem either has to do with school or how she can get permission to leave the lights on a little longer to read just one more page of a book, or more TV time. As her big sister, even the thought of someone taking this from her conjures images of untold suffering to that person.
I therefore can’t imagine giving permission for my daughter to be defiled. Because in essence, that is what you are doing. When you dress her up in white, and place flowers in her hands, and then place one of those hands on a much older man’s hands, you might as well be saying, “you may now defile her, no one will come after you.”
Granted, child marriages may be part of culture. But so was throwing away of twins and female genital mutilation. And these have been denounced to the point that while they may still happen in some parts of the world, large crowds don’t gather to cheer on. When they do, it is when they are armed with stones and sticks to beat up those who instigate these acts.
Culture can’t be the reason a 40-year-old man, with all his wits about him, forces himself into parts of a little girl, she herself has not truly discovered.
A ten-year-old girl in Yemen managed to get a divorce from her 30-year-old husband so clearly, there is room for change. The onus was therefore on Rawan’s parents to protect her from such a marriage. But it’s too late for her.
It’s not too late for many girls in societies where this is okay, and if their parents won’t fight for them, surely the rest of us can. Our voices may be soft at first but if we speak up loud enough, for however long we can, they will carry and echo and maybe, just maybe some little girls will hold on to their innocence for a little longer.