In Romania, it’s illegal for minors to marry, but that has not stopped the Roma so-called ‘gypsy’ communities from holding unofficial wedding ceremonies for children as young as 13.
Filmmaker Brietta Hague found herself unexpectedly at one of these celebrations in Transylvania, and later tracked down the 14-year-old bride, Perty, to ask her about the experience for Australia’s ABC.
At the time of the wedding, Hague writes, a tearful Perty hardly knew her 16-year-old groom — a match made by their families. A girl can refuse, but that risks establishing grudges between families, writes Hague. At any rate, Perty later explains, she was being dutiful as she had years left under her parents’ supervision. “It was my parents’ decision, but I agreed,” she said. “[People] think that if we are getting married we have to move out and to support ourselves. It’s not like that. Until we are at a certain age, like 22 or 23, we are not moving out, we are staying with our parents.”
By the time Hague caught up with Perty again, nine months later, the teenager was heavily pregnant with a baby girl.
“Sometimes I’m getting panicked because I get pregnant at only 14,” she tells Hague. “I was too young for that. And I really felt that my body wasn’t prepared for something like this.”
Nevertheless, she tells Hague she understands her parents’ motivations in arranging the union: “My father was frightened someone would kidnap me,” she says.
“There were a few families that were calling my father and telling him, ‘We don’t care if you don’t want to give her to us. We will steal her anyway and we will go in your house and take her out of the house, and with force’.
“He got scared and he [married] me. This way I’m a lot more protected.”
Her father had offered a similar explanation for withdrawing Perty from school at the age of 11.
While Perty has acquiesced to her parents’ wishes, she calls herself a feminist, and says she won’t be controlled by her new husband. “I cannot accept that a man is higher than me because he’s my husband,” Perty says. “A husband means to be equal with me and to by my partner, right? So I just cannot accept that he’s my boss. No, he’s not my boss, I’m not working for him, he’s my partner.”
Her older sister and role model, 27-year-old Klara, left her first husband after his family tried to keep her at home, and her second husband when she decided she no longer wanted to be with him.
Both sisters have learned English, and bolstered their dreams of independence, from watching YouTube videos. “Sometimes I was seeing these office movies and women were entering, and she was talking and all the men had to listen to her,” Klara notes. “I said, ‘I want to be like that. Why I cannot be like that?”
She has already become the first woman in her village to get a driver’s license and is establishing an online business designing clothing.
Perty and Klara both say they hope to be the last girls in their family to have arranged marriages.
“My daughter, she won’t get married this young like me, that’s for sure,” Perty tells Hague. “And she will be a really modern girl.”
Read the full story at the ABC.