No Religion Teaches Violence
"People of all faiths use religion as a reason to marry their children young, but no religion has ever sanctioned child marriage." Read about CARE's experiences of religion and Child Marriage.
People of all faiths use religion as a reason to marry their children young, but no religion has ever sanctioned child marriage. There is no verse in Islam that encourages child marriage. The same is true with Christianity. The Hindu religion says people are eligible for marriage only after 25 (Grihasthashram). As a matter of fact, religion per se is not a real cause of violence against women and child marriage. Religion and tradition are two different entities. No religion teaches violence.
--Seema Khan, President, Inter-religious Network of Nepal
I met Seema in Kathmandu during an event to publicly introduce CARE’s Tipping Point project in Nepal. Tipping Point is an initiative in Bangladesh and Nepal that mobilizes communities and national networks to address the underlying causes of child marriage in a dynamic process of innovation, insight, and influence. On first impressions, Seema did not seem like the kind of person given to small talk. She was clearly wicked smart, professional, and driven. A champion for the rights of girls and women in Nepal. Later, when I read her contribution to a project newsletter, from which the excerpt above is taken, I felt grateful. We know that child marriage is a global problem and happens in all major religions. But is that because religion promotes it? What do the world’s major religions say about child marriage?
My upbringing was Calvinist, my parents having been raised by Dutch farming immigrants in rural Iowa. My mother was at the top of her class in 8th grade, but her parents said that was enough schooling for a girl, and they kept her home to help take care of the farm and the infant girl that her older sister left when she died in childbirth. She was 17 when she married my father in 1952, eager to step into adulthood, although by our definitions, she was a child bride. Within a strict Christian community at that time, the only way out of the parental home, for a girl, and the only condoned avenue to sexual activity, was marriage.
My parents were very religious, in our community, in our home, in their hearts. That, along with studying anthropology, has given me a deep respect for people’s faith of all kinds. So the stories I am learning about through Tipping Point that link religious beliefs to child marriage practices make me uncomfortable. For example, two of our partner organization’s staff in Nepal wrote recently about a Hindu temple they had discovered where mass marriages of boys and girls take place. According to the temple’s priest, the celebration takes place once a year in honor of Ram and Sita, who married at the ages of 15 and 6 , respectively, in a group ceremony with their 3 younger siblings and their spouses. Dowry practices are entrenched in these communities; the temple event is seen as a service to poor families because it is done without dowry. There is also a common belief in this part of Nepal that having your daughters married before they hit puberty guarantees rewards in heaven. The priest said that girls must be younger than 12 and boys must be younger than 16.
Then there is Prophet Muhammad and his bride, A’isha. Some say she was 9 years old, and that that makes child marriage for girls okay. But others disagree, using historical evidence to challenge A’isha’s age or looking to other acts of Muhammad that support women’s agency in marriage decisions. Still, we hear local religious leaders saying that ‘good’ girls get married young.
Our colleagues at CARE Ethiopia hear the same thing from Christian leaders there. The Amhara region is 83% Christian, and the median age of marriage among women is 15.
I want to respect people’s expression of their spirituality in so many different forms but I also know that something is terribly wrong when 10- and 12- and 15-year-old girls are placed in situations guaranteed to involve forced sex and servitude. Imagine my relief to hear the words of someone who works across religions in a diverse country—No religion teaches violence. In many communities, misinterpretations of religion are used to justify child marriage. This is why CARE is working with faith leaders and religious networks like the one that Seema directs in Nepal, not to tell them they are wrong, but to find and support the champions of girls’ rights that are already there.
We got great news yesterday—because CARE and our partner agency Siddartha Samudayik Samaj have been in constant dialogue with the priest at the Hindu temple I described, the priest has realized the cost of child marriage to communities, families, and children themselves, and has decided that this year’s marriage ceremony will only be for youth 19 and older! We have a new champion out there, folks.
What is #16Days? November 25th, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, until December 10th, International Human Rights Day are the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, an international campaign with over 5,167 participating organizations from more than 187 countries, with activities to raise awareness about GBV and advocate for elimination.
What is CARE Doing? Preventing and responding to GBV is an integral part of CARE’s commitment to promoting gender equality and end poverty. In FY13, 61 CARE country offices implemented programming that address GBV in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Latin American and the Caribbean, reaching more than 1 million people. CARE addresses GBV by integrating evidence-based strategies into programming areas such as education, health, economic development, and food security. Overall, 26% of CARE’s total projects in FY12 addressed GBV. Read the CARE International Impact Report to learn more about CARE’s response. Check out CARE’s Blog for updates on what we are doing throughout 16 Days.
About the Program: The Tipping Point initiative is addressing child marriage through a dynamic process of innovation, insight (analysis and learning), and influence through advocacy. With the generous support of The Kendeda Fund, and in partnership with Siddhartha Samudayik Samaj (SSS), the Dalit Social Development Center (DSDC), JASHIS, and the Association for Slum Dwellers (ASD), the project focuses on facilitating and learning from innovative strategies to influence change-makers and root causes of child marriage in Nepal and Bangladesh, two child marriage hotspots. Read more about it at www.care.org/tippingpoint. You can also look for more in our series of what causes child marriage here.
About the Author: Carol Boender is Project Director of the Tipping Point project of CARE US, CARE Bangladesh, and CARE Nepal. Tipping Point is a multi-year child marriage prevention initiative that seeks to build evidence for what works to change social norms, implement existing policies, and ultimately reduce child marriage. Previously Carol worked on child marriage research in 9 countries of Asia as Head of Monitoring, Evaluation and Research at the Plan Asia Regional Office.