How American fifth graders react when introduced to the concept of child marriages

America Abroad
5th Grade Girls Attending Driscoll Elementary School in Brookline, Massachusetts

In some countries, especially in Africa, more than two-third of all girls are married before even turning 18.

A sad counterpart to this statistic is the fact that girls who marry at a young age are more likely to suffer from domestic violence, poverty and have a higher risk of contracting disease. According to the ICRW study, education is a strong antidote to these social ills:

“Girls with higher levels of schooling are less likely to marry as children. In Mozambique, some 60 percent of girls with no education are married by 18, compared to 10 percent of girls with secondary schooling and less than one percent of girls with higher education.”

Josephine Kelua from Kenya, was once in danger of becoming a child bride herself. But, as she told America Abroad in an interview, her mother protected her and she was allowed to get a degree as a nurse. She went on to create the Samburu Girls’ Foundation, which is devoted to rescuing young girls — sometimes as young as 7 — from the fate of marriage and getting them into school.

Because American children do not confront this reality, America Abroad wanted to see how young girls from the US reacted to the idea that millions of other girls in other countries are having to leave school to get married. So we visited a group of of 5th graders, who are aged 9 and 10, at Driscoll Elementary School in Brookline, Massachusetts.  

We started by asking them what they value most about going to school and, probably, like most American kids, studying wasn’t at the top of their list. Anika Mayer said she, “likes to come to school because she gets to meet all the friends she doesn’t get to see outside of school.” Her classmate Risa Cove said she too looks forward to socializing with her friends and that if she didn’t go to school, “her life would be pretty boring.”

The girls in this upscale Boston suburb were aware, though, that they had it better than other kids in poorer countries.  Nina Reis thought that other schools in these countries probably only have “one floor or one classroom or two classrooms.” And Mayer predicted that the American schools “probably have better supplies and materials.”

But when they were told that millions of girls are made to leave school and become wives to mostly grown men to bring money into the family, some struggled with the idea. Reis said, “If my parents did that to me I’d feel like they wouldn’t love me. But if there was there was a reason ... behind it, I would still not feel any better because I would want to be with them.”  Nora Woolfork expressed frustration saying that, “the parents should stand up for the daughter and not let the man buy her.” And Mayer said, “If I was being a slave because my parents didn’t want me, I would feel like my life wasn’t worth living.”

After our discussion, we asked the girls again about what they thought about school and its importance. Cove said, “I would way rather go to school than get married.” Gilda Gilbert added, “Even if people were not nice at school, I would still want to go there just to learn.”  But Sola Ash was, perhaps, best able to express the social injustice of denying children the right to an education.  She told America Abroad:

“Everyone has a right to get an education no matter where they live or what they look like or what gender they are.” 

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