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Pray for you? We can do a damn sight better than that!

I just listened to a BBC documentary called "The Marriage Breakers of Bangladesh". It is about an interesting NGO created and run by children. The NGO seeks to eliminate child marriage, which is already illegal in Bangladesh, but which often occurs anyway within the poorest and least educated parts of the population. Child marriage is about the worst thing that can happen to a young girl - it is institutionalised legal rape, it ends her education along with her childhood and guarantees the next generation will be born to young uneducated women - with the attendent negative prognosis that confers.

One of the less well-recognised catastrophes of child marriage is obstertic fistula. This use to be quite common, but now it is basically absent from the developed world, due to the increased age of women at birth and the better medical care. In regions where child marriage is common, however, obstertic fistula are also common - probably 100,000 new cases a year, with 2 million women living with a fistula. It is truly a horrible condition. A young girl, pregnant before she is mature, gets the baby stuck in the birth canal during delivery. Labour takes hours, even days, and the tight squeeze cuts off the blood circulation. The baby is born, but the tissue between the vagina and rectum is now dead, and rots away in her body. Scar tissue forms imperfectly, creating a constant leak of fecal waste from the rectum into the vagina. Unable to control her waste, the girl reeks and is divorced from her husband in shame. With no money, no education and often branded as a witch, the girl will typically try to return to her family. If she is very lucky, they take her back, but force her to live with the animals due to her smell. More often she is unlucky, and is stoned to death for witchcraft or slowly starves to death as a social outcast on the edges of the village.

The BBC journalist interviewed one thirteen year-old girl, married and then cast off with a fistula. She was resigned about her life and could not see any escape. She ended by just asking the journalist to "Pray for her". As the journalist panned to the next conversation I was furious. He should have shouted to that little girl, "Pray for you? We can do a damn sight better than that!" A fistula is highly treatable. The Fistula Foundation repairs tens of thousands of fistulas. The cost of the BBC repairing that girl's health and dignity? $450. Surely the BBC budget would cover $450 for a hard-hitting interview? Surely they are ethically obliged to? How dare they swan in, take the soundbites they need, and then leave that girl to her misery? I applaud the BBC for bringing attention to the plight of the millions who suffer from fistulas, but I shake with rage at the thought of them turning their back on that one poor little girl.

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