Yesterday I went with my mum to the mosque to pray. After we finished, a girl approached me and said, “Rasha, what a surprise!” She hugged me, and then l said, “Wala, oh my God! I haven't seen you for a long time.” As we talked, l thought I saw sadness in her eyes. And l wondered if she was really as fine as she said she was.
The last time l had seen Wala was in the 10th grade. I was chatting with another friend, talking about mobile phones and other silly things. Wala, a classmate, sat down by us to show off the new ring on her finger.
"Girls, guess what? I’ve gotten engaged to my cousin!" she said.
I told her to stop joking. But after a few minutes I understood she wasn't joking at all. Other girls started to congratulate her and Wala told us how sweet, kind and generous her cousin is. Then I asked her if she had thought about school. But before I could complete my thought, she laughed.
"Rasha, what are you speaking about?! I'll be a married woman and have a new life. l won't have time to think about studying or school," she said.
"But what about your dream of being a nurse?" I asked in shock.
"Rasha, all of us know that one day we’ll get married and stay at home,” she replied. “You don't really think your dream of becoming the best doctor will come true?!"
While l was remembering that past scene from 10th grade, the now 17-year-old Wala said, "You know, Rasha, how much I regret my decision? l was stupid to think of just marriage; now I have twins and it's so hard to take care of them while cooking and cleaning too. You were right about what you said. But l can’t do anything now except regret my decision.”
Then, abruptly, she said, “l have to go now. Follow your dreams and l hope you achieve all of your goals. God bless you."
After she left, l sat thinking about all of the other girls like her, and how much she is suffering now. Then l remembered Heba, a girl who came to high school exams while she was pregnant. She was so heavy with child at that point that she could hardly climb the three floors to class. When l think of that, l become angry at those who push their daughters to get married at such young ages.
Early marriage is one of the most oppressive problems in Palestine. We must educate more young girls like Wala and Heba of their rights.
Editor’s note: In 2012, of about 17,000 marriages were registered in the courts of the Gaza Strip; in 35 percent, the brides were under 17 years old. These marriages are concluded without the courts knowing the girls’ real ages, since the legal minimum age is 17. Meanwhile, about 2,700 divorce cases were registered in the same year, and in 25 percent of these, the wives were underage. Sociologist Fadel Abu Hein told Al Monitor that among the reasons that prompt some Palestinian families to force their daughters to marry at such an early age are poverty and unemployment. Poor families who cannot meet the basic needs of their daughters may marry off their underage girls to escape the financial burden of tuition fees and health expenses. In addition, since brides typically move in with their husbands’ parents, especially when they don’t have much money of their own, families believe young girls are more likely to adopt the habits of their in-laws without complaint.
Mentor: Pam Bailey
Posted July 26, 2016