Tag Archives: reproduction

Munchausen Syndrome/Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy and Women in Criminal Justice

The following is a link to a group project I helped with as part of the class Women and Criminal Justice:

https://sites.google.com/site/cjs339group6/

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

Introduction

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).

Implications

            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.

Conclusion

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.

 

 

References

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: Bagley and Merlo

Bagley, K., & Merlo, A. V. (2006). Regulating and controlling women’s bodies. In A. V. Merlo & J. M. Pollock (Eds.), Women, law, and social control (2 ed., pp. 64-87). Boston: Pearson Allyn Bacon.

1.      Main Thesis: Bagley and Merlo argue that official control over women’s bodies—particularly during pregnancy—has increased significantly in the last decade. However, they say, this increased control has been for punitive purposes; it has not resulted in better care or programming for women, pregnant or otherwise.

2.      Body of Evidence: After outlining their argument that women’s bodies are disproportionately singled out for public/official control, the authors discuss ways in which this occurs. They highlight several cases in which pregnant women were prosecuted based on their status as pregnant. For example, Regina McKnight is serving a 12-year sentence for the death of her fetus, despite the fact that there is no evidence her cocaine use killed it and despite the fact that a third-trimester abortion would have resulted in a maximum sentence of two years (p. 67-68). Clearly, the intention of such a sentence is to increase regulation and control of women, not to protect fetuses. The authors provide several other examples and introduce the idea of the slippery slope, asking, “to what standard of care should pregnant women be held? Should pregnant women stop drinking coffee, stop riding motorcycles, play doubles rather than singles tennis …?” (p. 69). The authors state that reproductive laws—including coercive contraception laws—have disproportionately targeted crack cocaine users (over other types of drug users), poor women, and women of color. Next, the authors give extended detail about how women are affected by HIV/AIDS. They discuss the gap in quality of care given to white women versus black women, who are disproportionately affected by AIDS due to a number of social causes, and the ethical issues surrounding mandatory testing of pregnant women and/or their newborns. Finally, the authors point out that rehabilitation and support services for AIDS-affected and substance-addicted pregnant women are more likely to produce social reform than continued punitive legislation.

3.      Conclusions: The authors argue that it is unfair to punish women for offenses resulting from a flawed system that women are unequipped to deal with. Rather than focus on increased control of pregnancy, they advocate the establishment of sex-abuse prevention programs (because women who have been abused are more likely to be HIV-positive and/or drug users), awareness and rehabilitation programs, and programs to help women become good mothers. The authors push for refocusing on the mother instead of focusing only on the fetus.

4.      My Conclusions: I enjoyed this chapter’s focus on legal precedent as reflective of social beliefs about control of pregnancy. This topic relates to my research, in which I’ve discovered that some states have tried to pass coercive legislation requiring women to view an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion; I suspect that this law, like those Bagley and Merlo discuss, will disproportionately affect particular populations. My one trifle with this chapter is that I think it does not discuss enough the agency that women do have. That is, while I believe that our flawed cultural/social/legal system produces much of the “crime” described herein, I also think that we must recognize women’s ability to make and take responsibility for their choices.

Women in Criminal Justice Article Review: Carlson

Carlson Jr., J.R. (2009). Prison nurseries: A pathway to crime-free futures. Corrections Compendium, 34(1), 17-24.

1.      Main Thesis: Carlson details the recent history of prison nursery programs across 10 states. He points out the growing need to consider the situations of incarcerated mothers. Based on recidivism rates, positive media attention, community good, the potential to break the cycle of generational incarceration, and low relative cost, this article shows that prison nursery programs are in the best interest of all involved.

2.      Body of Evidence: Carlson reviews literature surrounding prison nursery programs and points out that more research is needed in this area. For example, he says that “The most recent and only study on the level of attachment between mothers and babies while in prison was completed in the New York prison nursery system” (17)(emphasis mine). Based on the work of other criminology scholars, Carlson argues that children in prison nursery programs may even have advantages over “low-risk community children whose mothers had no criminal history” (17). Carlson also gives time to arguments against nursery programs, and he counters them by shifting the focus away from the prisoner and back to the well-being of the child. Next, Carlson gives a brief review of each of the 10 nursery programs underway in 2008 by state: New York, Nebraska, Washington, Massachusetts, Ohio, California, Illinois, Indiana, West Virginia, and South Dakota. Most importantly, he focuses on recidivism rates for participants in each of these programs and establishes a strong pattern showing that participation in nursery programs significantly reduces mothers’ tendency to return to prison. Finally, Carlson details a specific study undertaken at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women at York. Using historical data provided by NCCW staff, he shows improvement in recidivism trends, decreases in misconduct reports, and inmate satisfaction associated the prison nursery program. He uses this detailed description to demonstrate the relatively low financial cost and significant social gain associated with prison nursery programs.

3.      Conclusions: Carlson found that inmates “overwhelmingly” supported the Nebraska nursery program, that the NCCW staff supported it, and that media attention was positive (22). In addition, Carlson found “a demonstrated lower recidivism rate of 16.8 percent for women who successfully went through the nursery program, compared with 50 percent for the previous population of women who were forced to give up their babies” (22). He reports that these findings are representative of other states as well, and concludes that it is in the best interest of all involved to implement and extend prison nursery programs.

4.      My Conclusions: It surprised me that only 10 states have prison nursery programs, and I wanted Carlson to focus on the international context in order to show that the U.S. is not very progressive in this area. I also found myself wishing that he would have foregrounded the financial justification for his conclusion more; it seems that those people who oppose prison nurseries based on their cost might be persuaded to support them if faced with the costs associated with repeat offenders. However, I also recognize that Carlson’s audience is other criminologists. He is not seeking to persuade naysayers (although his attention to counter-arguments on page 17 indicates that he at least thought about this); he is seeking to provide an empirical study and its implications to the criminal justice community. With this in mind, I think this article was well written, succinct, and complete. I certainly learned a lot from it!

In the Wake of Hurricane Katrina

Woods, Clyde. (2010). In the wake of hurricane Katrina: New Paradigms and social visions. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

As I delve more into reading on risk communication, I’m finding that much of the recent work in the field touches on—or focuses on—Hurricane Katrina and the man-made parts of that disaster. This text, in fact, argues that all of Katrina was man-made, from the global warming that caused the storm to be so strong to the institutionalized poverty in the New Orleans region to the devastatingly slow government response. Specifically, this text devotes sections to “Histories of Race, Gender, Sex, and Class,” “Activists and Institutions,” “Culture, Music, and Performance,” “Tourism Industrial Complex,” and “Geographies of Disaster.” Perhaps one of the most controversial pieces in the text comes in the second section and takes the form of an interview entitled: “The Politics of Reproductive Violence.”

In this interview, activist Shana Griffin talks about “the ways in which interlocking policies, institution and systems of oppression operate to control and dominate Black women’s bodies, reproduction, sexuality and motherhood” (p. 158). Griffin is talking mostly about regulatory policies dealing with low-income women, who, in post-Katrina New Orleans, are predominantly Black. Griffin points to policies that “criminalize our ability reproduce, criminalize us for having sex and for being mothers” (p. 159). She is not talking about government aid being withheld, which is an even more controversial issue. Rather, Griffin points to instances of government aid being provided—but only at a cost. She gives the example of David Duke’s legislation to pay women receiving public assistance $100 per month if they would agree to be sterilized (p. 160). Griffin charges that women agree to this not because they want to be sterilized, but because they need the money. This plan is “designed to exploit low-income women’s economic vulnerability” (p. 161). Griffin also gives a separate personal example of how she was told that her income of $392 per month for disaster unemployment disqualified her from received Medicaid. The cut-off for Medicaid in post-Katrina New Orleans was $138 per month for a single woman with one dependent (p. 162).

Several chapters in this book also are concerned with the government’s policies on low-income housing. It was widely documented that legislative leaders used Katrina as an opportunity to destroy low-income housing that had previously occupied areas deemed desirable. This sort of urban planning not only left desperate families without lodging for critical weeks, but its result is a segregated cityscape. Every author in this book was critical of these types of policies, with some pointing to the effects on tourism, which is arguably New Orlean’s most productive and most exploitative industry.

Overall, this text provides a detailed look into the regulatory and social complexities of post-Katrina New Orleans. More work needs to be done in this area … which I’ll get to in a future post!