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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 October, 2003, 08:34 GMT 09:34 UK
Child bride: Sex abuse or cultural diversity?
A member of the European Parliament is demanding action over the marriage of a young Roma princess to a 15-year-old bridegroom.

Ana-Maria Cioaba, whose age has been reported as either 12 or 14, was reluctantly married on Saturday to a 15-year-old Roma bridegroom.

Family members say she had been promised in marriage when she was aged just seven, for a price of 500 gold coins, and had no say in the wedding.

British MEP Emma Nicholson is demanding that the Romanian Government take both children into care.

Is this marriage a form of child sexual abuse or an expression of cultural diversity? Should different cultures be able to exercise their different traditions on marriage? Tell us what you think.

The following comments reflect the balance of views we have received:

This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.

Your reaction:

It may well be "culture" or "tradition" but it's time people all over the world realised that it's not the same place as it was 100 or even 50 yrs ago. No child should be forced into marriage, or anything else for that matter. The adults in these different places must realise that times change no matter what and it's not right to make your children get married - what 12, 14 or 15 year old is really mature enough to understand what marriage means and what kind of life are they going to have. It is quite disgusting that any one from any country, race, culture etc can think it acceptable to force their children into these kinds of situations.
Tracey, UK

I think that the only really important thing here is that Ms. Cioaba did not wish to married. Before you go off on "tradition" and "culture" you need to think about that. I also feel, as someone of approximately the same age as the young lady in question, that no 12 or 14 year old, regardless of the culture they have been raised in is mature enough to commit himself or herself to another person for life.
Rachel, USA

This is clearly a form of child abuse. Oppression and abuse in the name of culture or religion is sickening. It should never be allowed to justify violations of basic human rights.
Henrik Persson, Denmark

Culture and tradition are always evolving. The issue at hand is the individual right to choose. Some societies have evolved more then others. Fundamentally the right of a woman to marry should be the same as any men. It should no be let to those, who may benefit, to dictate in the name of culture or tradition.
Jacques, Canada

How can this be seen as anything other than grossly wrong and abnormal?
Mark, UK
I live in a country where I am constantly expected to accept different cultures, be sensitive of their needs and traditions. Yet other cultures simply continue with barbaric practices which fly in the face of decency and civilised behaviour. In my country, this behaviour, which is the result of adults wishes, not those of the children, would be abhorred. To force two young, emotionally underdeveloped and largely inexperienced children into a permanent and life changing adult situation is nothing short of abuse. The young lady is sold almost as a slave. How can this be seen as anything other than grossly wrong and abnormal? This isn't about love and respect, it's about adults using children to gain status and standing for themselves. It is sick.
Mark, UK

It's not child abuse. It just is not the right thing to do let them be kids.
Claire Morrison, Scotland

To all you moral vigilantes from the UK: Take the log out of your own society's eye before criticising others. What about Muslim arranged marriages? This is just another example of an arranged marriage. Too young to marry? What about the UK dispensing birth control and sex education to teenage (in some cases, pre-teenage) girls. The UK is equally as guilty of supporting under-age sex. Don't lecture foreigners about their rights when the UK so abuses their own so-called laws. Which Country within the EU has the highest rate of pre-16 pregnancies? Of course, it is the UK.
Edwin Thornber, UK/Romania

A lot of people on here mention traditions, culture, etc. Only one person has come out and said that this was illegal in the country where it happened. The bottom line is just that, it was illegal from the get go. The morality of forcing a child into a marriage against her will is another thing altogether. No one no matter where they are should be forced into a marriage, and particularly into consummating that marriage. That is tantamount to rape and should be treated as such. No one of that age is ready for the hard work of a marriage. And as to the "we need to clean up our own problems before we shout about others" logic, I ask this person, if you see a wrong, but it is in your neighbour's house and not your own, does it make it any less wrong?
Diane Cavallero, Belgium

This is blatantly illegal
Sara, Spain
So should we have sat back and watched them stone Amina Lawal to death in Nigeria for adultery? Should we keep quiet about the circumcision of girls without anaesthesia? These, and many other atrocities besides are all committed in the name of tradition and culture. Anything that causes suffering or is an abuse of liberty should not be ignored, and especially in our own back yard! They should follow European law, if Romania wants to be part of the EU, this is blatantly illegal.
Sara, Spain

Culture is merely the description of the way that any particular society lives their lives. This is often positive, sometimes not and always changing and developing. If development is not defined by the gradual improvement of the quality of lives as defined by that society for the majority of that society then there is no logic to the expression. This does not mean following the same paths as Western nations (just look at Japan) or conforming to Western standards, just developing. This girl does not seem to feel the quality of her life is particularly high, if this situation only serves to benefit a few from that society then it may be part of their culture but there is no reason to respect it for that or condone it either.
David Williams, Japan

Several people have mentioned that a few hundred years ago it was normal for teenagers to marry. Several hundred years ago the average life expectancy was half what it is today so it was necessary to marry and procreate early in life. This is not the case in Europe anymore.
J. Frost, USA

These two kids should be allowed to go to school and get an education
Deena Marley, California, USA
These two kids should be allowed to go to school and get an education, they should not be forced into an illegal marriage, I'm sorry but you will never convince me that a 12-year old girl and a 15-year old boy are mature enough to take on the roles that they have been forced into. It's illegal people, It's Illegal!
Deena Marley, California, USA

Anyone who sold a 12 year old girl to another family for sex and household duties would rightly be locked up, but somehow being the girl's parents makes it acceptable to some people who seem to think that tradition and culture should allow you to get away with rape, slavery and child abuse. Pathetic.
Matt, UK (currently in US)

No matter where you live, no matter what kind of culture you belong to, the violation hurts you. It is something that same in every human being, so there is no need to accept something that may destroy the whole life of a child. The struggling of the girls tell us that is unacceptable.
Tamas, Hungary

The fundamental issue here is that the LAW is the same for all - or it should be. It is skewed to hide behind the curtain of tradition or social habits. And it would be even more detrimental for all involved, if the law is not applied. If the law conflicts too much with tradition, then Romanian legislators need to look at that now. Respecting the law is one of the critical factors that will contribute to Romania's accession to EU.
Adrian Chelaru, US

Children should not be forced to marry at any age. Life is to short to be dictated and told who to be and how to act. Maybe that's because Im American but child marriage would get you many years in jail here and it should no matter where you are in the world.
Michelle Tims, USA

Everything the others do seems odd to us in the West
Murad Vehaj Afridi, US
Everything the others do seems odd to us in the West, but do we ever realize that most of the things we do may appear to be vulgar and filthy to some others. For example marriage is a sacred thing and as long as the girl and boy are both have crossed into puberty, then the marriage can take place. Who are we to impose our standards on other cultures? We have lap dances and strip dancers in this country which to some other cultures is vulgar, immoral and improper. They do not tell us not to do those things, then what right do we have to tell them.
Murad Vehaj Afridi, US

I wonder how many of us who accuse other culture as "sexual abuse", worry about our teens having sex and pregnancies day-to-day in our "civilized" western society.
Liz, US

Where do we draw the line in "cultural diversity"? What if a "culture" allows slavery? Is that an expression of diversity as well?
Nauman Fakhar, US / Pakistan

Cultural diversity, sexual abuse, public support or outrage is all irrelevant. Under Romanian law this marriage is illegal, and should be dealt with as such. The American opinion, the western opinion, or any other opinion is irrelevant. Cultural traditions should be respected, in light of the law of the land and those who disagree with the law can work to change it as they so choose. Please don't turn the tears of a 12-year old girl into anything but what they are. The loss of a child's freedom and the continuity of her culture's traditions.
Nyia, USA

Why are the forced bride's rights dropped in the eyes of the world because it is her parents' tradition?
Kristina, Russia
Since when is abuse of children culturally sanctioned and protected? Why are we so obsessed with multiculturalism and cultural sensitivity that we cannot call things as they are? It is wrong to sell your child for money. It is wrong to force your daughter to marry someone against her will and this is the 21st century in Europe. Why are the forced bride's rights dropped in the eyes of the world because it is her parents' tradition? Why do the police in the UK feel hesitant about pursuing cases of honour killings? Why has the West gone mad on its own rhetoric and allows abuses right under its nose in fear of being culturally insensitive?
Kristina, Russia

Before we get on a US/UK bandwagon, we need to remember that arranged marriages between underage girls and older Mormon men, sometimes uncles, are common in some parts of the US, Utah for example. Let's make sure we get our home in order before we vilify others.
Larry, USA

Whenever the world's media focuses on violations of human rights under the UN charter such as the exploitation of children, someone cries foul and claims that it is an infringement on their internal affairs and culture. These very same people scream the loudest when their human rights are being violated by others. They can't have it both ways.
Mark, USA

I seem to recall that Mary Stewart (Mary II) was forced in to marriage with the "repugnant" William of Orange (William III) in 1677 - at the tender age of 12. No-one decries what once was, just what now is. Cultural differences aside, it is the principle of giving yourself freely into marriage that seems to be the critical issue here.
Malkie, UK

As strange as this may be to many people in the 'West', who consider themselves so wonderfully 'civilised', such a marriage is part of Roma cultural identity. What gives us the right to pass judgement? Whatever happened to tolerance and respect for the cultural habits of others. Quite frankly, from the pictures, the bridegroom looks as least as bemused as the bride.
NC, Norway (ex UK)

The reason behind this practice is tradition, but tradition doesn't make something right. The practice of child marriage should be re-evaluated, but we cannot expect everyone to conform to the rather "white-bread" standards of Western society.
Emma, USA

Whether something is morally wrong or right is something for the people of a country to decide. If this marriage is illegal under Romanian law, which it appears to be, then it should not be allowed. The rule of law is there to protect the rights of individuals, and has to take precedence over cultural concerns. For example look at the problems of honour killings and female circumcision in the UK. These may be culturally acceptable and legal in certain countries, but they should not be tolerated where they breach the law of the country in which they are committed.
Luke, UK

Cultural tradition or no cultural tradition, the law of the respective country has to be applied to all its inhabitants. We hear recently reports from a number of European countries about the arranged and forced marriages within the Muslim communities, also involving minors. The ones who are guilty of these human rights crimes get away with minor punishment or no punishment at all, because it is the so called cultural tradition. I think if Europe wants to be what it says - a real democracy - the democratic rules should be applied to everyone, also the young Roma or Muslim girls, not only the "old Europeans".
Llse, Denmark

Cultures and traditions should change with the times
Sowatey, Ghana
In certain parts of Africa, including the West, marriages were strategically planned to bond families, clans, lineages and kingdoms together. Individual's freedom could therefore be sacrificed for the perceived good of the whole society. Cultures and traditions should change with the times.
Sowatey, Ghana

Just because something is morally wrong under our culture does not make it morally wrong in all cultures. I think that one of the main problems in the world today is that the USA tries to spread its cultural values to societies which work quite well as they are.
Paul, UK

If everybody was to adhere to western democratic ideals and ways of life than what kind of a world would be living in? This is a Roma tradition and practice that has been around for centuries and is part of their culture and whether the west likes it or not it will continue. Forcing the Roma to change their ways is tantamount to killing the culture and tradition.
MS, London

MS, London asks what kind of a world we would be living in if everyone adhered to western democratic ideals and ways of life. The answer: one in which the rights of the individual were valued, along with representative government. Also one in which children would not be raped as a "matter of culture".
Jeremy, Canada

The whole issue of culture centres on civilization. The measure of a people's culture is seen as an oxymoron in western society. What is accepted cultural standard; serial monogamy, same sex marriages, and many others? Roma is a flagging culture, so help save it rather than destroy it.
Auktoba Phest, Canada

It's totally wrong for anyone to be married against their consent. However, some girls want to have sex soon after puberty, and look after their own house. It is equally wrong to deny them the right to marry and be properly looked after by a man. I don't think many boys under 16 are mature enough to look after a wife, but young girls are often able to care for a baby, if they are properly supported.
Arjuna Krishna-Das, UK

I can't believe that things like this go on in this day and age. This is simply of case of ignorance gone too far. A 15 year old groom and a bride of 12 to 14 years old is simply ludicrous! Some people have to get their heads examined.
Joe Cruz, Guam

It's the year 2003 these people need to get with modern times.
John, USA

Only a few centuries ago it was perfectly normal for a teenage girl to get married, whether she liked it or not. It is so typically western to think that our way of living is the only right way of living!
Gien, Netherlands

In my country, before the British put a stop to it, baby girls and boys were married off. In some parts they still do but on the sly. It may not have been a very bad thing back then. A girl had to bond with her new family after marriage. The earlier they got started, the easier it was for these baby brides. In today's world where the individual takes precedence over the collective, the practice is cruel and it wouldn't be enough to ban it. There must be prosecution of the abettors.
Subrata Datta, India

Lets not forget that the family of the bride in this country is still expected to pay for the wedding, which can sometime cost a lot more that 500 gold coins
Gwen, UK
In many cultures arranged marriages is an acceptable and expected custom. I do not think that these two young individuals being betrothed even for money is wrong, as it is part of their culture. However being forced to marry at a young age is unacceptable. And lets not forget that the family of the bride in this country is still expected to pay for the wedding, which can sometime cost a lot more that 500 gold coins.
Gwen, UK

It seems to me that this is not asking the right question. That it is a cultural diversity is a fact. Whether I consider it to be abuse or not depends on which side of the cultural barrier I'm sitting. The real question is what criteria do we have on which to base these judgements?
Ben Simkins, Switzerland

If Ana-Maria wanted enthusiastically to be married, and she understood somehow all that that entailed, and her country and culture permitted it, I would have less objection. However, we owe no deference to her father if he compels his daughter to be the instrument of his cultural statement. Our system of freedoms depends on the notion that a person's rights and liberties extend only so far as they do not infringe on those of others. That seems a fair standard, and I have no compunction about applying it to foreign traditions.
Matt, USA

The parents of these kids should be more worried about education and equipping them with skills for the future rather than practicing archaic traditions
Ali, USA

This is child abuse, pure and simple.
Dee, USA

The purpose of marriage is to allow two people who love each other so dearly to be allowed to live with each other in bliss for the rest of their lives. It's a voluntary decision that the bride and groom should agree on. While I think cultural diversity is a nice idea, I think the mutual happiness and wishes of the bride and groom are far more important than whatever anyone else says.
Anthony, Chicago, IL, USA

In the 21st century any 'marriage' that denies individual human rights has to be unacceptable
Diana T., UK
Once upon a time human sacrifice was part of many ancient cultures. This doesn't mean it remained acceptable as these cultures evolved. In the 21st century any 'marriage' that denies individual human rights has to be unacceptable and cannot be called a celebration of cultural diversity.
Diana T., UK

This marriage is obviously a form of child sexual abuse and an expression of bigotry against Roma children.
Liz, USA

There is an old-fashioned name for the practice of selling someone for money: slavery. I agree with the idea of taking both of these children into care, since their parents clearly have no proper concept of how to care for their offspring. Imagine the furore if any of the reigning monarchs in the rest of Europe tried something like this with their children. The republican movements would have a field day!
David Hazel, UK

While one common practice, in today's society, it is unacceptable to sell one's child into marriage, not to mention the child should not be put in a sexual situation at this age. This is not a matter of a "cultural difference". This is child abuse, plain and simple.
Susan, USA

This is terrible abuse and should be outlawed. She is sold off to be a slave, imprisoned in her husband's home. She won't have a happy day again unless someone helps her out of this situation.
Rachel H., UK

Action demanded over child bride
30 Sep 03  |  Europe
In pictures: Roma on the road
17 Jul 03  |  Photo Gallery


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