It is hard to believe, but forced adult and child marriage still exist in this day and age. Studies show that 18% of Indian girls are married before the age of 15. These girls are twice as likely to die in childbirth. Infants born to mothers under 18 are 60% more susceptible to dying within their first year. Also, the young teenage brides are more likely to experience sexual abuse and violence. 48% of women in South Asia are forced to be married before the age of 18.
Forced marriage is not the same as an arranged marriage. In arranged marriages consent is given by the couple to set up marriage but with a forced marriage, there is no consent. Girls are still treated as dowry and objects by the parents involved. Can you imagine what goes on in the mind of a 10-year-old girl getting married to a 50- 60-year-old man?
You fall in love with someone who is not the same caste as you and this results in threats delivered by your parents to marry someone else of their choosing or they will commit suicide. Others have to suffer being sold off at a young age by their parents in the name of marriage to a rich old man as his third or fourth wife.
Now back to this girl who committed suicide here in Canada. I don't know her, but her story touched my heart. She fell in love with a man who belongs to a lower caste than her back in Sri Lanka. Her parents found out and forced her to marry a man in Canada. This man's family told them that he possessed a nice job and made good money. The parents of the bride believed the family and did not know anything about his criminal background. They also didn't know that he did not practice engineering even though he had an engineering degree. People back home assume that life in Canada is glamorous and think that if you are engineer this definitely means that you have to be making lots of money. The parents threatened the women to accept a man 20 years older than her and married them against her will. Once she was in Canada, she realized that everything the family had said about the groom was a lie. He abused her, and he was an alchoholic who did not work. She could not forget her love from SriLanka. Eventually, depression forced her to a point where she took her own life.
This is just one of many stories that I have heard in the past year. We need to put an end and bring awareness to forced marriages. Marriage is a union between two people who want to marry each other. It is not meant as a business deal done amongst elders. When some couples are blessed with a daughter, they become very upset instead of celebrating her life. They immediately start thinking of when they can marry her off, and focus on the burden that she will cause to the family instead of all the good and happiness that she will bring. Caste is still a pivotal issue in many parts of the world, including Canada. Two couples fall in love and just because one person might belong to a lower caste than the other, he/she may be killed or forced to marry someone else. Marriage is not a one-day event. What most people forget is that this women and man will spend the rest of their lives together. Just because the parent doesn't want to tarnish their reputation in the community, they agree to marry their daughter to a stranger whom she doesn't want to marry. They never consider that for the rest of her life she may be raped, suffer from depression and be exposed to emotional and verbal abuse.
My aim in the future is to start an organization for women who find themselves in Canada as a forced bride. I want to provide a safe place for them to come get help. I think that there are too many women committing or attempting suicide because they have no one to turn to for help and it is time to change this. I also would like to open up facilities in India for children who are forced into marriage. This will be a place where the children can come get education and shelter instead of attempting suicide as their only option. I would like these facilities to also serve as an educational center to educate the communities in Sri Lanka so that they know there is a centre for these forced child brides to seek help. This won't be an easy task but at the end of the day, it will all be worth it at. No child should ever be forced to give up their childhood to become a wife.
I'm sure if that girl who committed suicide had a facility where she was able to go speak to other women who have been in her shoes, she might still be alive today. Please watch this awareness video that I put together as the first step on this journey.
Creative director/ concept and florals: Vahini Franklin/Blue Blossoms
Saree and jewellery for adult: Aalyaa
Outfit for little girl and adult blouse: Sharmila
Stylist and MUAH: Sharmila
Photographer: Treasured Photography
Video: Wild rabbit
Models: Vinu, Laksha and the daughter of Anurag Edwards