Child marriages

“Child marriage is a gross violation of all categories of child rights.”

A report by the UNICEF revealed that 82 percent of girls in Rajasthan are married before they are 18, 15 percent of girls in rural areas across the country are married before 13 and a major 52 percent of girls have their first pregnancy between 15 and 19.       
By the Indian law, it is illegal to allow or facilitate marriage of a boy under 21 and a girl under 18. Amongst all the states in India, it is Rajasthan that tops the list with the average age of a girl at marriage being 16.6 years, closely followed by Bihar (17.2 years) and Madhya Pradesh (17 years).

          Defying the law right in the eye, hundreds of children tied the knot in Rajgarh, 65 miles northwest of Bhopal in May 2005. According to sources, hundreds of children, some even as young as seven years old were married over a period of one week.

As if to mock at the law, the ceremonies were held at the same time as the ‘Akkha Teej’, a summer festival believed to auspicious for weddings. Meanwhile all the officials could do was to record the names of the children being married.

Despite the existence of legislation banning child marriage since 1929, the practice continues to be a social reality in the present India.     
Causes and Consequences
Laments Girija Mewada, a police constable posted at a Hindu temple in Rajgarh, “The law to stop child marriage is not powerful enough.”  In fact, a recent survey revealed that there were never more than 89 attempted prosecutions across India in any one year pertaining to child marriages.

Experts point towards the weak norms of law. The police do not have the authority to arrest anyone about to take part in a marriage, and the bureaucracy involved is so complicated, that most weddings are already materialized by the time papers are ready.

Willingness of the girl’s family to pass on the ‘burden’ of a daughter’s expenses and hope of early adaptation to the in-laws’ house adds on to the gruesome list of causes.

In India, one woman is reported to have died every seven minutes from a pregnancy-related cause, with the situation getting further aggravated by early marriage.

A recent survey revealed that 56% of adolescent girls in India in the age group 15-19 years are anemic. Child support agencies present the following as the dire set of consequences:
  • Child’s education is sacrificed
  • Girls become more vulnerable to domestic violence
  • Early pregnancies weaken the mother
  • Babies born to girls under 17 are 60 percent more likely to die in their first year of life

“Nobody should expect the evil of child marriage to be eradicated overnight or just by launching an awareness drive”, states Archana Chitnis, State Minister for Women and Child Development.

According to Renuka Chowdhury, Minister for Women and Children, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Bill, passed in 2006, is likely to provide protection to scores of children forced into marriage every year.

One surely wonders what is it that is likely to wake up the authorities to some real, constructive and result-oriented action.

A set of even more startling research reports and studies, coupled with a genuine outcry from the child welfare organizations and the public perhaps!