Tutu met with The Post at the Mayflower Hotel before leaving for New York. He started the interview with a prayer from the Book of Psalms.
Q: Tell us a little about the campaign and the economic and social forces that have made child marriage a tradition for so long.
A: We are really pushing this campaign for ending child marriage by 2030. It’s prevalent all over what you might call the developing world. It’s in virtually every African country. I was actually surprised. I used to think it was something that happened only in Asia. My eyes were opened by the fact that the highest incidence is actually in Africa.
It is a tradition where the family recognizes that they will benefit economically from dowries and things of that kind, and also having one less mouth to feed. They also think they are concerned for the girl’s virtue, that she might end up maybe being raped. It’s economic, too. For a new family [that the woman is married into], you have one extra pair of hands.
But it is a very debilitating practice. The girl child is not physically, let alone emotionally, ready to bear a child. The statistics are that girls who give birth when they are under 15 are five times more likely to die giving birth than girls of 19 and over. And their children are 60 times more likely to die before their first birthday.
Q: Do the girls themselves ever see any benefit to being married off so young?
A: There would be very very few who are likely to say, “I want to do this.” I think that almost 99.99 percent think no. When we were in Ethiopia, Mary Robinson [Ireland’s first female president and a former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights] asked one of these child brides, “What do you remember about your wedding day?” And this child looked, I mean, on the point of just breaking down. And she said, “It was the day that I left school.”
Now can you imagine remembering what ought to be the happiest day or your life in that negative way? “I never went back to school.”
Q: Do you see child marriage as an entry point to fighting other problems in the developing world?
A: If we want to make any headway with the [Millennium] development goals [adopted by the United Nations in 2000], this is a key issue. All in all, it means that if we don’t end this practice, this custom, six of the current [goals] will be out of the question. Extreme poverty and hunger, universal primary education, improving the health of women, reducing the incidence of HIV and AIDS. That’s because the husband is much older than his bride and is likely to have had several partners.