Sir: The marriage of 13-year-old Sarah Cook should not shock us; the marriage of female children is still a commonplace in many parts of the world.
Despite a century of missionary schooling, despite contact with the West and Western ideas, small girls generally remain outside human rights considerations.
The marriage of seven- or eight-year-olds is actually on the increase in east Africa - sleeping with a virgin is believed to cure Aids; and 10- to 11-year-olds cannot be guaranteed to be "pure" enough. The marriage of nine- to 10-year-old girls is also on the increase in Pakistan, partly as a result of a backlash to foreign criticisms of Muslim practice. The International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994 was told that half a million women a year die as the result of complications of pregnancy and childbirth: what was not pointed out was that many of these mothers are only children themselves.
Sarah Cook is a lucky girl to arouse so much concern: but then she is British, and white.
Joan Higman Davies
The writer is a member of Anti-Slavery International.Reuse content