When child brides grow and turn into women, their lives are already marked, as is their gaze, harsh and knowing. According to a report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, there are currently over 650 million women throughout the world who were given up for marriage as girls. Child marriage often comes with premature pregnancies and births in which the mother’s mortality rate is above average.
Orkida was 14 years old when she was given up for marriage by her family in Albania, as she explains to InsideOver: “These are life’s misfortunes. We had family problems. My sister had bad kidneys and wanted to be operated on, but my mother couldn’t afford to pay for it. So my mother began working in a Komunale (physically demanding state activities such as repairing roads) with a friend of hers who asked her to give me up as a bride for her son in return for having her daughter operated. With this wedding I have saved my sister, but it has been hell for me. I have suffered so much.”
It was a true ordeal, impossible to imagine. “My husband drank and would beat me. I had so many family problems that I was forced to work like a man, carrying sacks on my back in order to be able to feed my children. It came to the point where I was forced to leave my husband due to him drinking and beating me and so I moved to Tirana.”
Here, she ends up on the streets. When she meets a young man from the Roma community, she believes she will finally find some peace. But it is not to be. She had, once again, fallen into the arms of a man who drank and beat her. So she ran away and met the man she currently lives with.
Today, Orkida is 40 years old. She has five children and, having given her daughter Bleona away in marriage at the age of 12, is already a grandmother. Bleona is 18 and has three children herself. From mother to daughter, the vicious circle never seems to end. The factors behind it are always the same: poverty and illiteracy.
From southern Asia to Sub-Saharian Africa, crossing through the humanitarian crises in the Middle East to the heart of Europe: every year, at least 12 million young girls are married off before they reach the age of maturity. That means 28 girls per minute. For these girls, matrimony is not a choice; it marks the end of their childhood and the start of an uncertain future, depriving them of the chance to make decisions about their lives and exposing them to violence and abuse.
It’s a transcultural phenomenon, common to people far apart who live in the same poor conditions, such as those within Tirana’s Roma community in Albania. For many families here, such as that of Orkida, giving a daughter away in marriage is a means of survival like any other. Once the girls reach the age of maturity, nearly all of them already have several children to look after while their husbands are in prison. Their eyes are sometimes swollen while torn wedding photographs hang on the wall behind them.
According to a report by Save the Children, the majority of child brides do not receive adequate schooling and professional training opportunities, often having been forced to drop out of school or not been allowed to return as a consequence of the early marriage. It is hard for them to leave the invisible prison they have been confined to since an early age, yet some have succeeded.
After having suffered under the hands of her husband who drank and beat her, Orkida decided to divorce and became the leader of the “Catia and Gruas Rome” organization which supports the rights of the Roma minorities.