With Columbus Day just passed, explorers and adventurers are still top of mind, particularly since I’m in the middle of reading “1493 / Uncovering the New World Columbus Created.”
In “1493,” author Charles C. Mann writes that even as conquistador Hernán Cortés was busy ripping apart the Aztec empire, and bringing a large portion of Mexico to Spanish subjugation, he found time to produce offspring by a variety of women, apparently as was common in the Europe of his day for men with a certain level of power.
Among those he married was a girl named Tecuichpotzin. Even amidst the bloodletting and mayhem of the Spanish assault, she already had been widowed – twice. And, she was all of 12 years old.
We can read such history and think, well, that was then – centuries ago. That doesn’t happen now! We would be quite wrong though.
Some 60 millions girls around the world are forced to marry before the age of 18. This situation is being highlighted today – the first International Day of the Girl – by CARE, who is using the day to educate about the plight of these girls.
According to the organization, half of girls in developing countries will become underage mothers. Aside from having their childhoods stolen, these children are at risk for HIV, dying in childbirth and domestic abuse. They are pretty much ensured a life of poverty; they are unlikely to become educated.
At the current rate of child bride creation, in the next decade, 100 million more girls in developing countries will be married.
It’s been reported that Iran wants to lower the legal age of marriage for girls to age 9! Nine! Other countries that practice what we in the West might describe as institutionalized child abuse through this practice of child “marriage” include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia and India.
Closer to home, the age of consent in many parts of Mexico is 12. Given that a large number of the illegal alien population in the U.S. is from Mexico, we have been importing a cultural standard completely different than that of the U.S. for awhile. This isn’t simply idle speculation. There is a long list of arrests of illegal aliens who have perpetrated sexual assaults on children, including sustained practices of abuse through child prostitution.
The abuse is unconscionable. No child should be robbed of childhood. The failure of countries to protect their children has another consequence. Besides creating cultural backwaters, it’s setting up societies for unsustainable populations.
The best thinking on how to better the lives of girls in poor countries continues to indicate education and empowerment. Through this, child survival rates can increase, and females can have more say in how many children they want and space the births in way that contributes to the health of both mother and child (or children).
Five hundred years ago and the European conquest of the Americas seem like a long time ago, but maybe not. Humans still persist in practices that ignore freedom and choice, even though we have the knowledge and the information to live in a more enlightened way. Does it have to be this way? I choose to hope not as long as there’s a commitment to seek positive change.