Adolescent marriages in Africa

A New York Times story about pubescent daughters forced to marry by their fathers.

Published November 28, 2005 11:22AM (EST)

The front page of Sunday's New York Times featured a troubling story about the frequent practice in Africa of sending girls ages 11-15 to be married against their will.

Reporter Sharon LaFraniere spoke to fathers, daughters and state officials about these forced marriages of pubescent women, sometimes to men decades older. She found that while there is some interest in addressing the practice, it stems from a fundamental attitude about the value of male children vs. female children, men vs. women.

LaFraniere quotes Seodi White, Malawi's coordinator for the Women in Law in Southern Africa Research Trust, as saying that "the value of the girl child is still low ... Society still clings to the education of the boy, and sees the girl as a trading tool. In the north, girls as early as 10 are being traded off for the family to gain. After that, the women become owned and powerless in their husbands' villages."

Uness Nyambi, a 17-year-old from Malawi with a 70-year-old husband and two children (the eldest almost 5), tells LaFraniere, "Just because of these two children, I cannot leave him." And 19-year-old Beatrice Kitamula, married against her will to a 63-year-old neighbor as a payment for a cow, says, "I was the sacrifice."

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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