The curse of early marriage

Is an early marriage a boon or bane? What’s the difference between getting married early and getting married too young? The society in Dhaka, among other cities, believes that a daughter-in-law is someone to be scrutinized and a son-in-law to be exalted. Whether married early or late, a daughter-in-law’s status is reduced in her own house and her husband’s house once she is married. Young brides often lose out on their careers, education etc. once they tie the knot. It also gives rise to a series of social and health issues. Tahmima Anam feels that there is long way to go to reverse the age-old assumption that an adolescent girl is a problem to which the solution is marriage.

 

Read an excerpt of the article written by TAHMIMA ANAM :

It’s wedding season in Dhaka. The invitations have gone out — thick, gilded envelopes inviting people to functions at fancy hotels. Apartment buildings, sometimes even entire city streets, are festooned with fairy lights. A school friend of mine (I can’t use her name) married when we were both in our 20s. It was, by all accounts, a thoroughly modern love match. She had known the groom since high school; they had both attended college on the East Coast of the United States, and returned to Dhaka after completing their degrees. It was a fancy wedding, with imported flowers, D.J.s, matching outfits for the entire wedding party, a hotel reception, a three-tiered wedding cake and a honeymoon in Bali. As wedding gifts, they received a car and a furnished apartment. A few weeks after the wedding, my friend told me a story I’ve never forgotten. She said she had gone to her in-laws’ house for lunch and that her mother-in-law had cooked shrimp curry, a favorite of the newlywed couple. As the dishes were served, her husband’s mother announced: ‘‘Make sure you give the biggest shrimp to my son.’’ This surprised my friend, but she smiled obediently, as one is supposed to do in these situations, and served up the biggest shrimp to her husband. A week later, they were invited to lunch at her parents’ house. Shrimp curry was again on the menu. This time, it was her own mother who said, ‘‘Give the biggest shrimp to your husband.’’ In my view, this was the beginning of the end of my friend’s claim to equality. Perhaps that sounds petty — what’s a couple of shrimp? — but the story hints at a greater injustice. When my friend went to her in-laws’ house, she was asked to make a show of serving her husband when he was perfectly capable of serving himself, in a house where, technically, she was the guest and he the host. And then, even in her own home, her status was reduced. Equality, it seems, ends at the wedding gate. You couldn’t call her match an ‘‘early marriage’’ — that term is reserved for women who marry below the legal age of 18 (as a majority here do, some as young as 12) — but I believe she married too young. She was educated, chose her own husband, and went on to have a successful career. Yet there is a subtle form of hegemony masked by the pomp of a lavish wedding and a pretense of equality. And it dictates that a daughter-in-law is someone to be scrutinized and a son-in-law to be exalted. A recent study by the development organization Plan Bangladesh and the nonprofit International Center for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh, showed that 64 percent of women aged 20-24 were married before the age of 18.  ...Read more