Every culture has its own traditions passed down through generations, which often proves to enrich the lives of the community and reinvigorate social bonds among people. However, an excessive number of cultures around the globe still condone some derogatory, archaic traditions and culturally-institutionalised bad behaviour, both within their country and their diasporic communities. As these traditions clash with universal human rights, cultural bias is being used to excuse and allow atrocities.

Child Brides in Afghanistan. Photo source:  National Geographic.

Child Brides in Afghanistan. Photo source: National Geographic.

Despite the modernisation process undergone by some traditional structures, child brides are still a prominent part of both African and Indian cultures, with India having the highest number of child brides. Despite it being an illegal practice in several South Asian countries, the tradition continues, as “customs take precedence over laws.” The child is thought to be suitable for marriage as soon as she enters puberty, condoning the sexualisation of young girls and abuses from older men. A sum is often paid to the parents making this tradition financially beneficial for the girl’s family, and further proving this practice as a social relic. Despite strict UK laws, many families will seek to take their children abroad to continue this tradition and avoid accusations of human rights abuse. This process of rationalising a harmful practice in the name of tradition leads to the normalisation of these ways, to the point that a critical evaluation is seldom seen as necessary or possible.

From the series "1994", Rwanda. Photo by Pieter Hugo, 2014.

From the series "1994", Rwanda. Photo by Pieter Hugo, 2014.

After years of these cases being largely ignored, in 2012, the public were finally exposed to the grooming, abuse, and trafficking of young white girls in Rochdale. Predominantly Pakistani men were found to take advantage of poor, young women, who were lured with drinks, drugs, and gifts, then raped and prostituted. The reasons why this case took so long to move forward is allegedly because police and social services agencies “didn’t want to appear racist,” and claims were not taken seriously. Investigating the actions of Rotherham Council, a report by Louise Casey suggests that “any mention of ethnicity was ignored for fear of being seen as racist,” with a councillor event participant being exposed as saying the men had been “fooled” by young girls whose make-up and clothing made them appear older.

As the emphasis on bigotry becomes more prominent and widespread, and as we strive towards more tolerant societies, it´s fair to say that some Western communities might avoid antagonising immigrant groups and foreign cultures in their midst. Does this mean that they are at risk of condoning illicit behaviour and explaining it away with cultural biases?

Child Not Bride protest in India. Photo source:  Al Jazeera .

Child Not Bride protest in India. Photo source: Al Jazeera.

Despite the death of young girls, instances of abuse and continued sexualisation, objectification, and patriarchal ownership of women are in many societies called traditional. Although some might speak individually against these traditions and call for breaking with these harmful ways, they still persist. The value of tradition as a knot for social life must be re-evaluated. In the face of accusations of criminal behaviour against powerless victims, century-old customs should be seen as what they truly are: obsolete forms of arranging life, operating in a world that can no longer accept them. Calling out a culture for abuses it silently condones and traditionally accepts is not offensive, but fair and, one might argue, necessary, when entire young generations are stuck within decrepit and demeaning ways of life.

Words: Louise Squire

Copy edited by Elena Stanciu