So it finally happened: I’ve pissed off people in my town. Was it the typical faux pas that Peace Corps Volunteers commit? Did I sleep with a local or smoke a cigarette? Nope. I tried to get women to come to my English classes.
I learned pretty quickly that “What are you doing today?”, my standard conversation starter, doesn’t start much of conversation here. When I ask women in my town about their day-to-day plans, there is a sense of confusion and perhaps embarassment. “What am I doing today?” they might say, “The same thing as yesterday and the day before that. The same thing as always.” And then I have to come up with a new topic.
In the States, we tend to see the existence of child brides as an indicator of backwardness of a culture. Many of us have this hackneyed stereotype in our minds of a 15 year old being forced by her parents to marry a strange and cruel older man. And while this does happen in the world, and far too often, I want to add texture and depth to the image of the child bride. I want to dig into the incentives which cause many young women to not only agree to marriage, but to seek it out for themselves.
In Morocco, as of 2004, one legally must be of at least 18 years to marry, but unfortunately, this law hasn’t done much to stop the practice of early marriage. According to UNICEF’s “State of the World’s Children,” about 16% of girls in Morocco are married before the age of 18. While it’s hard to know the accuracy of these statistics, from the slice of the country that I’ve experienced, 16% seems about right. In fact, at the very first and only wedding I’ve been to here, the bride was only sixteen, and no one seemed to blink an eye.
Please take my following observations with a grain of salt, as they certainly cannot contain the whole picture. I have by no means seen the whole country, and am well aware that circumstances vary widely between the countryside and the cities, and the north and the south. Also, with language and cultural barriers, I am aware that it is impossible for me to understand such a complex situation completely. Here are what I see to be the reasons that inspire girls to marry young: