Thursday, July 21, 2011

Child marriage legal & still practiced in Saudi Arabia

12-year-old Saudi bride (photo from Al Nafjan article)

Some of this post is drawn from "Child Marriage: It's Still Legal in Saudi Arabia" by Eman Al Nafjan, of Rijadh. Al Nafjan is the author of the Saudiwoman's Weblog, a blog on Saudi society, culture, women and human rights issues. Her article appeared in the email newsletter, Arts and Opinion, last week.

When I finished writing this post, finished reading the articles I've linked to and looking at pictures of child brides on Google Image, I straggled into my kitchen and just slumped against the wall, weeping with sorrow and anger. I came back to my computer after a few minutes and looked at one more site that made me feel some hope - Million Women Rise.  Readers, please leave comments about other sites and organizations that are working to empower women or to protect young girls (and young boys) from abuse - I need to hear it! Sally Kneidel

Saudi girls can be married off at any age

Saudi activists have been pressuring the Ministry of Justice to outlaw child marriages and to prosecute parents who "allow their children to be raped under the pretense of marriage." In April of 2009, the Ministry issued a statement that it was working on legal changes to protect young girls from this abuse. But according to last week's Arts and Opinion newsletter, the only legal change so far is a blank on the marriage certificate for the age of the bride. Any age is acceptable.

Saudi child bride

Young brides can suffer permanent physical damage

A Saudi social worker interviewed by the capital's newspaper, Al Riyadh, said she knows of 3,000 cases of brides 13-yrs-old or younger married to men the age of the bride's father or grandfather. Why do parents turn their daughters over to pedophiles, knowing that rape of a young girl can inflict permanent and even fatal physical damage, as well as psychological trauma? Intercourse with an immature girl can and often does cause a fistula - a tearing of the tissues that separate the bladder and rectum from the vagina. Without surgery to repair it, a fistula leads to life-long leaking of urine and feces from the vagina, which causes infections, can cause kidney failure and death. (Rape, especially violent rape, of adult women can also cause fistulas. As can prolonged childbirth, or any birth for an underage mother.)

So why do parents give their young daughters to much older men? One reason is to get the dowry paid to the parents by the groom. Another reason is cultural...

Having an unwed daughter is perceived as culturally risky

"Girls are seen as very risky in Saudi Arabia because they can later shame the family name by sleeping with someone,” Al Nafjan explains. “So families often marry off their girls at a young age so they can’t shame the family. It’s particularly common in cases when you have people from the lower economic status who get divorced,” Al Nafjan says. “The father usually wants to keep the boys, because culturally they are not seen as risky, and doesn’t want to give the daughters to the mother out of spite, so he just marries them off to the first person who’ll pay. In all the cases that have gotten the attention of local newspapers it was because either the mother or the aunt made an issue of it."

Daughter sold for $22,600

Nafjan describes the marriage of a 65-year-old man with hepatitis B to a healthy 11-year-old girl. She reports another case involving a 12-year-old girl who was sold by her father into marriage with an 80-year-old cousin for the equivalent of $22,600. The girl had to be taken to the hospital after the wedding night. Saudi women's rights activists are outraged at such cases but powerless to do much about it, if the parents are in favor. A wedding officiator may object as well, but apparently has no legal grounds to refuse to perform the wedding.

10-year-old who escaped forced-marriage named "Woman of the Year"

I came across this book several times in researching this post. I haven't read it but it looks intriguing. Amazon has more information about it.

For more information about child marriage, see Al Nafjan's article as well as these links to other articles: 

Al Nafjan's article

Yemini Child Bride, 12, Dies in Labor. CBS News

Yemen: "I'd Rather Die than Go Back to Him"

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced

Saudi Justice Ministry: Ban Child Marriage (post on Million Women Rise)

My previous posts on child marriage:

Review of gripping polygamy memoir: "Escape" by Carolyn Jessup

Child brides, poverty, population growth

Keywords: child marriage child bride child brides fistula Saudi Arabia Yemen dowry forced marriage arranged marriage

Friday, July 15, 2011

Review of gripping polygamy memoir: "Escape" by Carolyn Jessop

"I have a corner in my state that's worse than the Taliban" said Utah's attorney general Mark Shurtleff.

Child brides

That corner of Utah (and adjoining Arizona) is the subject of this engrossing and shocking book by Carolyn Jessop, a brave young mother of eight who managed to escape the oppressive and totalitarian cult headed by Warren Jeffs. You've probably heard of Jeffs, who made the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List in 2006 for alleged sexual conduct with minors, incest, accomplice to rape, arranging illegal marriages between his adult male followers and female children, and other sordid activities.

Warren Jeffs and one of his 12-year-old brides

Married to a stranger 32 years older

But the book is not about Jeffs, he's just part of the horrifying backdrop. The story is Carolyn's memoir, moving through her childhood within the cult, where parents were encouraged to routinely beat their children, and her vivid descriptions of her arranged marriage at age 18 to a 50-year-old stranger.

Vicious competition for husband's favor

I thought I knew a little bit about polygamous marriages from watching the tame and amiable reality show "Sister Wives" on the TLC channel. The world of the cult that Carolyn grew up in, the FLDS, is another ballgame entirely. I was stunned by Carolyn's retelling of her married life to a power-hungry bully with growing numbers of wives and dozens of children, a life ruled by constant fear of physical and emotional abuse of her children and herself. Wives were forced to compete for the husband's favor, or watch their children suffer. The husband's favorite wives were free to beat, torment, starve, and humiliate the children of the less favored wives. His preferred sexual partner could expect at least some protection for her own children, so competition among the wives was fierce. Wives who displeased the husband were treated no better than a dying chicken in a hen house: shunned, verbally and physically attacked, even left on the side of the road. Teenage boys who might compete with old men for prospective brides were also left on the side of the road outside the community, with no resources whatsoever.

Twilight Zone for real

The scenario makes no sense unless it's seen in the bigger picture - almost all the people in Carolyn's world grew up in the cult and had virtually no exposure to the outside world or media, and little education. Even the police in the town were part of the cult, like a Twilight Zone nightmare. Women's cars had no license plates to keep them from leaving town. Most of the women were faithful to the cult: brainwashed to believe that their eternal salvation was directly dependent upon their obedience to their husband's wishes. The ego-maniacal men were told that they would be gods in the afterlife, each with his own planet to rule over as king.

It's a story of human weakness, cruelty, greed for power, and gullibility that challenges belief. And yet Carolyn leaves no doubt that every word is true.

Her dawning realization...

The best thing about the book is Carolyn's detailed narration of her gradual awakening to reality and her growing determination to protect her children.  We move with her through the events that convinced her she was living in an increasingly dangerous world of lies, delusion, and deadly oppression.


And then the night of the escape! She waited patiently for the confluence of circumstances that would maximize her chances of success - the time finally arrived in the middle of the night. Her husband out of town, Carolyn stuffed all of her baffled, brainwashed children into the van with no license plate and careened out of town. Carolyn was the first woman ever to escape the FLDS with all of her children, to survive the subsequent legal assaults of her high-ranking husband, and to win custody of all her children.

I love this woman! What a role model for taking control, where none was offered. For throwing herself bravely into uncharted territory. For winning, and for writing to inspire the rest of us with her stunning tale of victory over the lowest of the low - men who live to abuse and degrade those weaker than themselves.

Yay for Carolyn Jessop! If you want some riveting reading, grab her book.

I just saw on Amazon that she has a second book, Triumph: Life After the Cult, published in May 2011. I'll be reading that one as soon as I can get my hands on it.

Links to some of my previous reviews of books and documentaries

"Burning in the Sun": I love this unique eco-documentary
Review of "The Cove": An A+ documentary about Japan's dolphin slaughter
Review of the documentary "End of the Line: Where Have All the Fish Gone?"
Review of new food film: "What's on YOUR Plate?"
Review of Jonathan Safran Foer's book: "Eating Animals"
Review of the new documentary "Dirt: The Movie"
Review of the documentary "Kilowatt Ours" by Jeff Barrie

Posts about child brides in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia

Child brides, poverty, population growth by Sally Kneidel
Child marriage: it's still legal in Saudi Arabia by Eman Al Nafjan

Further reading on Warren Jeffs and the FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints)

Prophet's Prey: My Seven Year Investigation into Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints by Sam Brower and Joh Krakauer (Sep 27, 2011)
Keywords: Carolyn Jessop FLDS Warren Jeffs child brides child bride child abuse polygamy Merril Jessop plural marriage polygamist

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Early orangutan researcher Galdikas announces new "cruise expedition"

Birute Galdikas with young orangutan. Photo: Irwin Fedriansyah

John Bordsen, travel writer for the Charlotte Observer, published on July 3 a brief interview with Birute Galdikas about her work with the orangutans of Borneo. Decades ago, Galdikas was one of three women sent by famed anthropologist Louis Leakey to research the world's great apes: Jane Goodall pioneered the study of wild chimpanzees and Dian Fossey pursued wild gorillas, both projects in Africa. As a young woman, Galdikas took off to Borneo (tropical island in Southeast Asia) to study the natural behavior of orangutans in their native forests. For a summary of the research of all three woman, see Sy Montgomery's excellent book Walking with the Great Apes.\ Another great read, about a North American journalist's search for Birute Galdikas on Borneo, is A Dark Place in the Jungle by Linda Spalding.

I visited Indonesian wildlife markets; illegal sale of baby orangutans rampant

Fossey was killed on site in Africa (by poachers?), but Goodall and Galdikas have maintained a lifelong commitment to chimps and orangutans, respectively. At some point during her career, Galdikas' forest research morphed into rescuing orphaned orangutans, as the forests of their native islands have been plundered by timber interests and the palm-oil industry. Mother orangutans are often killed when they're in the way of commercial development, in fact are often killed to obtain their offspring. A baby orangutan can bring tens of thousands of dollars in the blackmarket pet trade. I learned that, first hand, while posing as a tourist in the illegal wildlife markets of Jakarta last summer. I was offered a baby orangutan in the Jakarta market of Pramuka, although more often orangutan sales occur in backwoods and sequestered locations to avoid any risk of prosecution. For more about the specifics of my interactions with traders, see my post: Laws flaunted: flourishing pet trade threatens orangutans's survival

I traveled through Borneo and Sumatra last summer investigating...

the conservation efforts for orangutans, whose numbers are dwindling as their habitat disappears. I was astonished at how much of the tropical forests of these lush islands is already gone. So sad, because these Southeast Asian islands have been among the most bio-diverse sites in the world. More posts, and pix, from my travels in orangutan habitat:
My search for wild orangutans on Borneo and Sumatra
Hunting may threaten orangutans even more than habitat loss

Galdikas' 10-day expedition for tourists next year

Anyway, early next year, Galdikas will lead a 10-day "Indonesian Interlude" cruise expedition to two of her research stations in Borneo (see Orangutan.Travel.or Fronteirs.Elegant Journeys to learn more about the trips).

Protecting apes and other wildlife

Trapping, shooting, eating, and selling wildlife are long-held traditions in forest cultures. Solutions must involve enforcement of local laws protecting forests and wildlife, and enforcement of penalties. That's something that's not happening right now in developing countries. But it must if orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, tigers, and thousands of other species are to survive this century. Many organizations are busy, on site, trying to make it happen. In Southeast Asia, TRAFFIC and Greenpeace are working hard to turn things around.

What can you do?

Support some of the NGOs who are making the most progress in protecting orangutans from illegal hunting and trade and who are fighting to protect Southeast Asia's remaining forests from destruction. And working to rehabilitate orphaned orangutans.

These are some of the best:

Orangutan Outreach
Greenpeace International
TRAFFIC: the wildlife trade monitoring network
ProFauna (an Indonesian NGO that helped me in Jakarta by providing a local guide to go with me to the markets)
Sumatran Orangutan Society
World Wildlife
Rainforest Action Network
Earth Pulp and Paper

Some of my previous posts on conservation in Southeast Asia:

Some of my previous posts on wildlife smuggling around the world:

Monkeys and parrots pouring from the jungle. September, 2008
The U.S. imports 20,000 primates per year. February, 2010
The great apes are losing ground. March, 2010

Some of my previous posts about deforestation:

Orangutans dwindle as Borneo, Sumatra converted to palm-oil plantations August 3, 2010
Wild tigers are in trouble October 4, 2010
Plush toilet paper flushes old forests. September 26, 2009

Keywords: orangutan orphans orangutans poaching Borneo Sumatra Galdikas 10 day expedition Indonesian Interlude Camp Leakey deforestation palm-oil industry