Tag Archives: identity

Preventing Child Marriage: A Complex Cultural Battle

The following is a mini-paper written for my Women in Criminal Justice class. This is the first time I’ve done any research on–or, to be honest, really been aware of–the problem of child marriage. I didn’t have space to really deal with this in the rich, complex way I would have liked to (limit of 5 pages) … but  I’d love to find some more sources that deal with the cultural difficulties involved with working against child marriage as an institution.


Preventing Child Marriage: A Complex Cultural Battle


This paper argues that child marriage constitutes a significant act of international violence against girls and women and that action is necessary in order to protect girls from the consequences of being married as children. Recently, child marriage and its implications for girls and women have become more visible in the popular press. For example, Essence and National Geographic magazines have both published pieces on the devastating effects of child marriage in the past five years (Amber, 2008; Gorney, 2011). However, child marriage is still largely invisible in that it gets little attention relative to the enormity of its effects. This paper suggests that child marriage is a significant international problem. Specifically, this paper argues that child marriage is a human rights violation targeting girls in three particular ways: Child marriage causes girls to be denied education, it makes girls vulnerable to abuse, and it increases girls’ risk of serious health problems. Further, this paper makes recommendations for actions by international governing bodies to deal with the problem of child marriage.

Describing Child Marriage

Child marriage occurs when a person under age 18 is married (Nour, 2006). Although both boys and girls are married as minors around the globe, child marriage disproportionately affects girls; in Mali, for example, just one underage boy is married for every 72 underage girls who are married (Nour, 2006). Child marriage has recently become more visible on an individual level, largely because of the cases of two Yemeni girls. Arwa Abdu Muhammad Ali, 9, and Nujood Ali, 10, both came forward to accuse their husbands of maltreatment (Worth, 2008). Ali’s courage resulted in a precedent-setting legal case when she was granted a divorce. Such cases aid feminists and activists in describing the individual consequences of child marriage because they help put innocent faces to an otherwise largely invisible institution.

The Contexts of Child Marriages

Child marriages occur most commonly in South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East (UNICEF, 2010). In a 2005 study of women aged 20-24, UNICEF found that the highest incidences of women being married as minors were in Niger, Chad, Mali, Bangeladash, Guinea, and Burkina Faso; all these countries had child-marriage rates of higher than 60 percent (UNICEF, 2005). Appendix A shows a map and a bar chart to help visualize the geography and prevalence of child marriage. However, these figures are estimates. Child marriages are often conducted in secret or at the least are not officially recorded. Scholars report that child marriage is closely connected with human trafficking of minor girls, and investment in covering up this criminal activity further distorts efforts to understand the prevalence of child marriage (Ghosh, 2009; Mikhail, 2002). For example, only 490 cases of child marriage were reported in India for the five-year period preceding 2006, although experts believe “the percentage of under-18 marriages of girls in the country has increased from 34% in 1998–99 to 45.6% in 2005–06” (p. 723). Most sources estimate that around 60 million currently living girls and women are victims of child marriage (Terkel, 2010; UNICEF, 2010).


            This paper argues that three main effects of child marriage are troublesome. Child marriage causes girls to be denied education, makes girls vulnerable to abuse, and increases girls’ risk of serious health problems. It is unsurprising that child marriage disproportionately affects girls; it also disproportionately results in serious life problems for those girls as compared to boys who marry prior to age 18. Child marriage, for girls, “leads towards inadequate socialization, discontinuation of education, physiological and psychological damage to girls due to early and frequent pregnancies, and quite often an early widowhood” (Nagi, 1993, p. 2). Raj, Saggurti, Balaiah, & Silverman (2009) found maternity-related complications including higher incidences of repeat childbirth in under 24 months, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, and sterilization in women who had been married as children. Girl brides also face issues including sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS, and increased chances of cervical cancer (Nour, 2006). In addition, one factor that consistently correlates with child marriage is a low level of education (Nour, 2006). Less education and consistent sex-related health complications both mean that child brides have less opportunity—in terms of fewer resources and more complications—for escape, leaving them extremely vulnerable to all types of abuse.

Troublingly, child marriage primarily impacts girls from rural and poor families, who may see girl children as an economic burden (Kamal, 2010; Singh & Kapur, 2005). In some cases, families marry their daughters early in hopes that they will have better lives with a husband than the family could provide (Gorney, 2011; Worth, 2008; UNICEF, 2010). Whatever the reason for the prevalence of the underage marriage of girls, child marriage certainly correlates with many different identities. Religion, ethnicity, class, nationality, and other factors affect child marriage, making the issue ripe for third-wave feminist analysis and intervention (Van Wormer & Bartollas, 2010). Feminists should be particularly invested in preventing child marriage since it perpetuates generational cycles of inequity, disempowerment, and poverty, all of which already affect women in greater numbers than men. Indeed, feminists and other scholars have proven that child marriage causes girls to be denied education, makes girls vulnerable to abuse, and increases girls’ risk of serious health problems. Thus, child marriage is a serious category of international violence against girls and women.

            However, establishing this belief cross-culturally—a first step toward preventing child marriage—is not easy. Child marriage is “linked to social and economic expectations … [child marriage is affected by] conflicts and pressures to maintain social and gendered behavioural norms” (Gangoli, McCarry, & Razak, 2009, p. 428). Gangoli, McCarry, & Razak found that the difference between an arranged marriage and a forced marriage is often blurred; girls are socialized into wanting to please their parents and adhere to their home culture, making it extremely difficult for them to refuse an arranged child marriage even if they live in a country where legal help is available to them. The age of consent is also a controversial issue (Bunting, 2005). Further, Gorney’s reporting shows that families often believe that marrying girls protects them from sexual predation because their husband will protect them from rape—at least, he will protect them from rape by men besides himself. In most cases, local cultural resistance to the criminalization of child marriage occurs for many reasons and is extremely strong.

Current Law and Recommendations

International bodies, most notably the United Nations, have expressed disapproval toward child marriage. The UN has opposed child marriage since 1948. “Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that persons must be at ‘full age’ when married and that marriage should be entered into ‘freely’ and with ‘full consent’” (Nour, 2006). Despite this international statement, national legislation has proven difficult to pass even in the United States. Republicans in the House of Representatives successfully blocked the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2010—even after it passed the Senate—because they believed it would lead to increased abortions (Terkel, 2010). In addition, legal and social policy opposing child marriage meets with overwhelming opposition in countries where child marriage is the cultural norm. In effect, laws against child marriage actually contribute to the invisibility of its victims as they cause child marriages to increasingly take place in secret.

Gaffney-Rhys (2011) argues that, while law is important for establishing understandings about child marriage, national and local social programs are better for preventing it. This paper suggests that social policy is now far more important in working to prevent child marriage than legal policy. Social programs like those discussed by Erulkar & Muthengi (2009) would support awareness and education about child marriage in countries where early marriage is the norm. Such programs could help girls and their families gain access to alternatives in cases where girls are married for protection. Further, aggressive and culturally sensitive social programming would significantly impact the steadiest indicator of child marriage: education. Better education for girls will likely have the result of decreasing the prevalence of child marriage. Finally, at the very least, social programs could provide girls with more knowledge about how to take care of themselves in the instance that they are married and facing health complications or abuse.


This paper argues that child marriage constitutes a substantial act of international violence against girls and women because of its prevalence and its negative consequences for girls’ health and education. In addition, it puts girls at significant risk for physical abuse, including sexual assault. This paper further suggests that privileged organizations and nations such as the U.S. have an obligation to fund and organize social programs to educate girls and their families in affected regions about the dangers of child marriage and about other viable options for girls’ social success. Such programming stands to improve the situation of girls and women on a global scale.




Amber, J. (2008, Nov.). Child brides. Essence, 145-150 and 184-185.

Bunting, A. (2005). Stages of development: Marriage of girls and teens as an international human rights issue. Social & Legal Studies, 14(1), 17-38.

Erulkar, A. S., & Muthengi, E. (2009). Evaluation of Berhane Hewan: A program to delay child marriage in rural Ethiopia. International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 35(1), 6-14.

Gaffney-Rhys, R. (2011). International law as an instrument to combat child marriage. International Journal of Human Rights, 15(3), 359-373.

Gangoli, G., McCarry, M., & Razak, A. Child marriage or forced marriage?: South Asian communities in North East England. Children & Society, 23, 418-429.

Ghosh, B. (2009). Trafficking in women and children in India: nature, dimensions and strategies for prevention. The International Journal of Human Rights, 13(5), 716-738.

Gorney, C. (2011, June). Too young to wed: The secret world of child brides. National Geographic, 219(6), 78-99.

Kamal, S.M.M. (2010). Geographical variations and contextual effecton child marriage in Bangladesh. Pakistan Journal of Women’s Studies, 17(2), 37-57.

Mikhail, S. L. B. (2002). Child marriage and child prostitution: Two forms of sexual exploitation. Gender and Development 10(1), 43-49.

Nagi, B. S. (1993). Child marriage in India: A study of its differential patterns in Rajasthan. New Delhi, India: Mittal Publications.

Nour N. (2006). Health consequences of child marriage in Africa. Emerging Infectious Diseases 12(11). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol12no11/06-0510.htm.

Raj, A., Saggurti, N., Balaiah, D., & Silverman, J.G. (2009). Prevalence of child marriage and its effect on fertility and fertility-control outcomes of young women in India: A cross-sectional, observational study. Lancet, 373(9678), 1883-1889.

Singh, K., & Kapur, D. (2005). Law, violence, and the girl child. Health and Human Rights 5(2), 8-29.

Terkel, A. (2010). House Republicans block child marriage prevention act. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/17/house-republicans-block-child-marriage-prevention-act_n_798382.html.

UNICEF. (2005). Early marriage: A harmful traditional practice. Retrieved from http://www.unicef.org/publications/files/Early_Marriage_12.lo.pdf.

UNICEF. (2010, Sept. 23). Child protection from violence, exploitation, and abuse: Child marriage. Retrieved from http://www.unicef.org/protection/index_earlymarriage.html.

Van Wormer, K. S., & Bartollas, C. (2010). Theoretical perspectives on women and the criminal justice aystem (3rd ed., pp. 3-26). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Worth, R. F. (2008, June 29). Tiny voices defy child marriage in Yemen.  The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/29/world/middleeast/29marriage.html.


Women in Criminal Justice Article Review: Snyder, Gabbard, May, and Zulcis

Snyder, C. S., Gabbard, W. J., May, J. D., & Zulcis, N. (2006). On the battleground of women’s bodies: Mass rape in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Journal of Women and Social Work, 21(2), 184-195.

1.      Main Thesis: Snyder, Gabbard, May, and Zulcis argue that we should consider the social and cultural patterns that allow war rape to occur. Using the Bosnian conflict as an example, the authors suggest that women experience war rape as a complex situation involving not only sex, but also ethnicity, age, race, class, religion, nationality, and more. They suggest that attention to this complexity can shape future policy to prevent and/or prosecute war rape.

2.      Body of Evidence: This article begins by providing a detailed history of how women’s fates and fortunes have been intertwined with and dependent upon national narratives and social initiatives in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the former Yugoslavia. The authors document the history of wartime rape, going all the way back to the Roman rape of the Sabines (p. 185). The authors dispute arguments suggesting that war rape is biologically based. Next, the authors discuss feminist responses to wartime rape—which suggest that rape is an expression of male hatred toward women—as well as documenting gender roles and relations and the uprising of feminism in Yugoslavia prior to the Bosnian conflict. The collision of feminism and nationalism resulted in a splintering of the feminist movement; nationalism led to “discourse that conflated images of mothers with the nation itself” (p. 188). This, in turn, allowed public policy to turn toward reproductive control, which paved the way for cultural understandings of war rape as a way for males to demoralize the enemy while propagating their own nationality/bloodline and preventing the enemy from reproducing—a form of ethnic cleansing. The authors state that most rapes were perpetrated by Serbian men against Muslim women and that between 25,000 and 50,000 women were raped; however, many would not admit to being raped because of the social consequences, which included shaming their men (p. 189). Finally, the authors argue that the “Bosnian conflict signaled the end of the invisibility of women who are raped in war” (p.191). For the first time, war rape was classified by the United Nations as a crime against humanity on par with torture and murder.

3.      Conclusions: Snyder, Gabbard, May, and Zulcis conclude by pointing out that the fracturing of the women’s movement was one of the first signs of the wars of succession in Yugoslavia. As such, women and feminists are uniquely placed to prevent such atrocities. The authors suggest that war rape victimizes entire cultures as well as individual women. They argue that we are obligated to consider the complex nature of war rape as a crime that implicates such characteristics as ethnicity, nationality, and religion in addition to gender and sex.

4.      My Conclusions: This article was shocking. It also was detailed and well researched. I appreciated the attention to social and cultural logics supporting war rape. In addition, I heartily agree with the third-wave nature of the authors’ argument about considering the intersectionalities of identity involved in war rape. However, I disagree with the authors’ contention that women and feminists are uniquely obligated to fight this type of violence. Certainly women and feminists should be part of the fight, but we already have many burdens to bear, and I submit that men—who still make up the vast majority of all militaries worldwide—actually have greater potential to make changes in time to prevent imminent cases of war rape. I wish the authors had called men to action as well.

Summer Reading 2

Calafell, Bernadette Marie and Delgado, Fernando P. (2004). “Reading Latina/o images: Interrogating Americanos,” Critical Studies in Media Communication, 21: 1, 1-24.

Calafell and Delgado explore the implications of Americanos, a book of photos of Latinas and Latinos in the U.S. They suggest that the text is critical of flattened, stereotypical understandings of latinidad in the States.

  • The authors cite Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities to frame their work.
  • The authors incorporate elements familiar to postmodernists and third-wave feminists: Latina/os remain dynamic and difficult to fix precisely because they are responsive to their shifting environment, their historical contextualization in the U.S. and their pursuit of opportunities there as well as their ties to their cultural homes” (2).
  • The authors discuss “hyphenated Americans.” Although the context leads me to believe they did not coin this term, this is the first time I’ve encountered it and it seems to me to have a lot of potential as a representation of othered groups.
  • This article discusses some dominant discourses about Latina/os and sets out to show how Americanos participates in a critique of them. For example, one such discourse is the idea that Latina/os are “invaders” who intend to “rob the US of its resources” (3). Americanos offers a more complex narrative than this.
  • “It aims at both the Aristotelian goal of persuasion and the Burkeian presumption of rhetorical discourse as identification. In the first instance, Americanos functions as a vernacular rhetoric that retells the story of Latina/o peoples and counters the legacy of distorted impressessions of Latina/o peoples and cultures. IN the second, the text imagines a pan-Latina/o reality through the iages and their composition within the text and invistes readers (Latina/os and non-Latina/os alike) to recognize the connectedness among the variety of Latina/os” (4).
  • The authors make an argument based on three concepts: third space, crossing (borders), and los sagrados.
  • The authors set up Americanosas a “plea” (8). Given their attention to the language of classical rhetoric, what does it mean for them to identify this work with judicial rather than deliberative or even epideictic rhetoric?
  • Attention to the word American is fascinating: It’s the “most unifying single word in the hemisphere. But for some reason the United States has coine it as their word” (Olmos cited in Calafell and Delgado, 9).
  • Note the incorporation of La Malinche as a cultural icon. (11)
  • The authors engage in a rhetoric of “overcoming” in relation to Latina/os who “make it.” This is an interesting connection to dis/ability rhetorics, where the rhetoric of overcoming has been critiqued.
  • The authors say that Americanos “posits los sagrados (the sacred) as a way to see how rituals serve as a means to resist assimilation while simultaneously complicating the meaning and impact of religious practices both inside and outside of the culture” (14). This bears interesting connections to Francesca Bray’s work in gynotechnicas, wherein she expands the definition of technology to include social rituals.

Summer Reading 1

I’m trying very hard to be a good student this summer! I’ve started out by finishing up some reading that I really wanted to get done during the semester. I’m including here some of my favorite concepts and quotations (some with context) from these texts, which will hopefully create interest for others and job my own memory in the future. (Citations precede quotations/contextualizations/concepts.)

Bizzell, Patricia, Ed. Rhetorical Agendas: Political, Ethical, Spiritual. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2006. Print.

  • Lester Faigley’s critique of fast rhetorics because they risk creating “a culture where things are quickly used and discarded, a culture where the abuse of the environment and gaping inequalities are ignored” (9).
  • Harriet Jacobs’s “decision to be a fugitive (absent-present) mother” (Carlacio 319)
  • El Mundo Zurdo, quoted from Anzaldua
  • Christa Jean Downer recognizes her own privilege as “a light-skinned woman” (335). She says: “women-of-color feminists realize that labels and categories are important life strategies; they create visibility and break silences. However, women-of-color feminists understand also, that the act of joining in uncomoplicated solidarity around an identity category reifies oppressive relationships and, therefore, limits the efficacy of social movements that seek to change relationships of domination” (336).
  • Downer calls for women to base alliances on interconnections
  • Jung theorizes the potential flattening effects of over-identification, giving an example wherein her students, by over-identifying with bell hooks as victims of racism, were “able to avoid the hard work of contrasting the historical, material, and institutional contexts of their experiences with those of African Americans” (349). The students were able to gloss over the differences between individualized and institutionalized racism. Jung suggests that disidentification, listening for difference, is a potential solution to such defensive mechanisms.

Olson, Gary, Ed. Rhetoric and Composition as Intellectual Work. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 2002. Print.

  • Lynn Worsham suggests pursuing a deeper understanding of the relationship between intellectual work and ideology. “What I am suggesting, then, is that the primary work of ideology is more fundamental than the imposition of a dominant framework of meanings. Its primary work is to organize an emotional world, to inculcate patterns of feeling that support the legitimacy of dominant interests, patterns that are deemed especially appropriate to reigning gender, race, and class relations” (106).
  • Crowley says: “In a posthumanist dispensation, to say that bodies are not containers of something-else-that-is-more-important (that is, to reject the modernist body) is not enough” (177). Drawing on Halberstam and Livingston, Crowley suggests that the body is a technology that “both writes and is written upon; it is the scene as well as the aegis of representation” (178).
  • After proving the point with a quotation from Susan Bordo, Crowley suggests that because women’s worth has always already been connected to their bodies and how they use them, “women are particularly well placed to develop analyses and critiques of the body and of the regimes that govern bodily practices” (179).
  • Crowley: “we do not celebrate the multiplicity of sexes ‘given’ use by ‘nature’; rather, we presume that people whose bodies do not clearly comply with our bipolar definition of ‘true sexuality’ are inadequately or inappropriately sexed” (183).
  • Crowley: “What I learn from body studies is that no body is disinterested. And that’s why this work is central to rhetorical studies, which has always taken the study of partisanship as its province” (186).

Ownership, Bodies, Legality: Culture in Tech Comm

This post is a critical response to readings in English 451: Cultural Studies in Technical Communication

It is unsurprising that the part of Williams’ text that interested me most came in “Owning the Self in a Disowned World.” Williams, in her curious style of narrative anecdote and theoretical reflection, discusses the case of a woman charged with homicide after a miscarriage, and juxtaposes it against the case of a woman suing for the right of her fetus not to be in the prison she herself has been sentenced to; meanwhile, she remembers the case of a woman jailed to protect her fetus from drugs (183-184). “My head is throbbing because these cases don’t make sense to me … I’m not sure I believe that a child who has left the womb is really a separate person until sometime after the age of two. The entire life force is a social one …” (184). While this passage is of interest to me because of my research in technical communication and gender studies, especially as it relates to reproduction and women’s bodies, I also think it gets to the heart of Williams’ book. Time and again, she argues (with herself, with the world) over the disjointedness of trying to impose neat legal limitations on human beings who are so complexly, messily, socially un-limitable and whose “legal rights” often overlap or are taken up in frightening and unjust ways.

The whole book is a passionate, angry, sad response to the fragmentation imposed on people, people like Williams. More than once, she notes her own isolation as a single black professional woman. In many contexts, she wrestles with the notion that “allowing the separation in order to benefit the real mutuality, they enslave themselves to the state” (185). Reading this on the heels of This Bridge Called My Back, I often found myself conflicted about the promise of unity for women, for people of color, for gays and lesbians, for the poor. I struggled to read this text. It was emotionally difficult, both in terms of sheer exposure (an eleven-year-old slave girl impregnated by her white master! the acceptance of that girls’ descendants that the master is also part of their inheritance! A fifteen-year-old black girl raped physically, then again in the media/social aftermath!) and in terms of my own implication (as a white woman, my thoughts about affirmative action programs are a hopeless mess of conflicts). There were many subjects on which I agreed with Williams; there also were areas where I disagreed but recognized my own privilege and historical context as influencers in my disagreement.

(The one disagreement I just have to mention is Williams’ idea to stage “guerrilla warfare” by secretly impregnating white women with black sperm (188). Although she then does “disclaim this as a serious exhortation,” she does so defensively. I found her entire treatment of the issue to be highly problematic; to me, any case of a woman impregnated with sperm—black or white—that she did not want—regardless of why she didn’t want it—is a form of rape, and Williams does not deal with this violent trespass into female bodies as a feminist issue at all.)

I was so involved with Williams’ book that I now find myself worrying about involving the field of technical communication in this response. Much like Williams’ students who claim she doesn’t teach law, I find myself struggling to connect the content of the book to the subject of our class. But at the same time, these subjects—race, gender, sex, disempowerment, oppression, subjugation, discrimination, hate, privilege, the veil of transparency—are endemic to technical communication. Mark Hannah exhorts technical communicators to re-envision their own production of legal rhetoric and technical communication teachers to take up legal issues in the classroom. At stake is that technical communicators “not see themselves or their companies simply as subject to or victim to the limits and restrictions of the law” (14). Hannah’s work could perhaps be seen as a response to Williams’ book; here is a way to do something about all the injustices she makes visible.

(Hannah’s suggestions, of course, represent just one angle of a whole spectrum of responses. As Christian argues, there is no need to produce a particular theoretical response representative of my own situatedness and stick to it “as if I were a mechanical man” (53).)

I have brought legal rhetoric into my own classroom when I teach technical communication. My students study a body of lawsuits surrounding nail gun accidents. However, the combination of Williams and Hannah’s pieces have prompted me to reconsider the way in which I present this information. I have asked students to think in complex ways (including thinking about social class and gender) about how instruction manuals for nail guns function rhetorically. Now, I’ll add some new subjects of focus. I’ll ask students to look at the lawsuits themselves and examine the ways in which we value law as neutral or transparent, and I’ll ask students to review each others’ work (as Hannah demonstrates on page 19) with an eye to legal potentiality.

This seems a small step in the face of a text like Williams’. For now, it’s all I know to do.


Works Cited

Williams, Patricia J. The Alchemy of Race and Rights. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1991. Print.

Hannah, Mark. “Legal Literacy: Coproducing the Law in Technical Communication.” Technical Communication Quarterly 20.1 (2011): 5-24. Print.

Christian, Barbara. “The Race for Theory.” Cultural Critique: The Nature and Context of Minority Discourse 6 (1987): 51-63. Print.