Education is the Weapon Extremists Fear the Most, Especially if it’s in a Female Mind

The AHA Foundation was recently contacted by a doctor from Iraq who found our website while looking for information about the fight against child marriage, a dangerous traditional practice that is on the rise in  many poor communities in which he works. We asked him to share his experience with child marriage in Iraq with our supporters. Here is his story: 

I’m from a middle class, well educated family. Thankfully, I have no personal experience regarding forced minor marriages, and neither me or any member of my family has been subjected to this. Forced marriage and minor marriage cases have been there for the past 35 years in Iraq. I began to understand and to notice these cases when the clannish regimen started to get stronger in Iraq. I heard about these cases from people in the past, especially in areas where the tribes are the ruling authorities. Anyhow, realistically and personally I started to get in touch with such cases when I became a doctor, and specifically the last year when I started working in a very poor Shia Muslim majority sector with a lot of religious extremist individuals.

My duty as a medical professional includes performing minor operations, and a lot of girls come to hospitals with their mothers in order to have a minor operation done. So many times I ask the girl in front of her mother about her age and whether she’s still in school or not. The shocking answer comes to me often that she is 13 years old and is currently married to her cousin and she resigned school under her husbands’ or fathers’ pressure. The mothers usually don’t agree on this act and tell me that she wished not to allow this marriage to happen, however, she is obligated to obey the commands of the father.

The greatest issue these girls face is the grieving regarding abandoning school. A lot of them are very willing to continue their education and they feel sad about their lost future but there is nothing they can do. Another issue is the sexual abuse issue. These girls are considered children and they usually suffer from physical and psychological sexual traumas, especially when marrying men that exceed their ages by 10-20 years. A major medical hazard those girls face in Iraq is pregnancy with its complications, which is unbearable to a child.

The reasons behind forced marriage cases are varying: Financial, because the families are too poor to accommodate for their daughters life. When an older fiance comes, they accept his offer and take some money. The majority of cases are the results of tribal rules when a man has the right to obligate his uncle to marry his daughter regardless of his or her mother’s opinion. And finally, people from these poor areas are usually illiterate, so they don’t acknowledge education as something important.

Accurate statistical information regarding this issue actually are not available, but it’s prevalent in rural areas of Iraq. I estimate that 1/20 girls are forced to marry a man that she doesn’t like.

The most important measure to abolish this negative phenomenon is supporting girls’ education (For example giving a financial prize or a scholarship for every girl that passes through secondary school), educating the community regarding the hazards of underage female marriages, and spreading the word among all the civil society organizations and law enforcers to protect those girls from any harm if they decide to disclose the issue to the courts and lawyers.

To stop child and forced marriages both in Iraq and internationally, EDUCATION …EDUCATION …EDUCATION. Education is the weapon that those extremists fear the most, and especially if it’s in a female mind. So they do their utmost to ensure that ignorance remains abundant in these areas.

We need to encourage girls to complete their education beyond secondary school and once this is done, we will start to see a new generation of Iraqi females who will defend their fellow Iraqi women rights by themselves.  

It’s heartbreaking to hear first-hand the stories of women and girls who suffer because of honor violence. It can be difficult to imagine and understand that stories like these are also happening in the US. The unfortunate truth is that they are far more prevalent than most people realize, and hundreds of thousands of women and girls are suffering alone and in silence every day.

You can be a key factor in eliminating child marriage in the US. Write to your legislators and demand they take action. Organizations like The AHA Foundation and Unchained at Last are working tirelessly to put an end to the human rights abuse of child marriage. By filling in forms like this, you can write to legislators across the country and take action toa defend the rights of women and girls at risk who are married against their will.

Taking a stand has never been easier or more important. Every voice can make a difference – use yours to save the lives of women and girls at risk across the US.

*Identifying details have been concealed