When is a Halloween Costume More Than Just Child’s Play?

Op-ed by World Vision CEO Claire Rogers first appeared in The Herald Sun (print) 1 November 2019.

I have always thought that when it comes to dressing up for Halloween we should let kids be kids.  So, what could be wrong with a little girl donning a white dress with a veil?

Plenty according to a mother who started a petition against the “inappropriate and offensive” costume.

Then the social media furore broke out.

Within hours Kmart pulled the stock nationally. And then the pulling of the stock became the story.

Some were offended, and some were offended people were taking offence.

A new petition was started to bring back the dress. Caps Lock keys were activated and…well you know how these things go.

It’s the “black/blue-dress – white/gold-dress” meme for 2019; do you see a serious global issue or political correctness gone mad?

Within a few days the story had gone truly global, everyone from FOX News to the New York Post to People magazine were reporting and commenting on it.

When I look at the dress, it takes me back to the refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh that more than one million displaced people now call home.

It’s a place where teenage girls aren’t allowed on the street – they are kept in shelters because of the risk of trafficking and abuse.

Bangladesh has the 4th highest rate of child marriage, after Niger, Central African Republic and Chad.

It’s in Dhaka that I met Meghla, an 18-year-old advocate against child marriage.

When Meghla was 13 she participated in World Vision’s life skills classes learning about the adverse effects of early marriage, and how to communicate. The lessons gave her confidence in herself.

She told me that this was confidence she really needed, when her mother threatened to kill herself if Meghla didn’t consent to marry at 13 – to a much older man. 

But Meghla held her ground and managed to get out of it.  Now, she works with World Vision to prevent other child marriages.  Her bold and inspiring leadership make her a beacon of hope for other young girls.

Child marriage is a huge global issue. This year, at least 12 million girls will be forced into early marriage.

Parents often use marriage as a tool to manage poverty believing it will protect their daughters, especially after disasters and in refugee camps, where girls are vulnerable to predators.

In Australia we really are lucky. But perhaps the luckiest of all are our children. They enjoy many protections and rights under the law.

And sometimes it’s easy to forget the freedoms we take for granted here are not the norm globally.

Worldwide, as many as 650 million women alive today married before they turned 18.

It’s a shocking number. But it’s even more shocking when you ask, ‘how many women and girls are not alive today because of child marriage?’

The leading killer of women and girls between 15 and 19 years old is complications arising from pregnancy and birth. Their babies more often suffer from low birth weight or die within a month.

I’m the mother of a 16-year-old daughter. It’s hard for me to comprehend, that for my daughter’s global peer group, the leading cause of death is complications in childbirth.

We don’t see this in Australia because of our low rates of child marriage.

Child marriage sets women and girls up for a life of hardship — they are less likely to stay in school and at bigger risk of domestic violence.

When girls such as Meghla stand up for each other they make change together.

So whatever side you take on the Kmart dress debate, we can all agree, that putting this terrible issue back in the spotlight can only be a good thing.

Find out more about sponsoring a girl with World Vision.

Top countries for child marriage

Mozambique has a very high rate of child marriage, ranking ninth in the world.

According to the 2017 UNICEF report, State of the World’s Children, the countries with the highest rates of child marriage before age 18 (counted among women now 20 to 24) are:

  1. Niger — 76 percent
  2. Central African Republic — 68 percent
  3. Chad — 67 percent
  4. Bangladesh — 59 percent
  5. Mali — 52 percent
  6. South Sudan — 52 percent
  7. Burkina Faso — 52 percent
  8. Guinea — 51 percent
  9. Mozambique — 48 percent
  10. India — 47 percent

Of the 25 countries with the highest rates of child marriage, almost all are affected by conflict, fragility, or natural disasters.

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