Child Marriage Widespread in Rural India Despite Ban

Campaigners say the prevailing problem of child marriage is also responsible for the poor health and childbirth records of the country.


Sabtu, 21 Des 2013 11:56 WIB

Child Marriage Widespread in Rural India Despite Ban

India, child marriage, human right, children right, Radio Australia

In the western reach of India's most heavily touristed state, Rajasthan, the deep-rooted custom of child marriages is widely prevalent.

Figures indicate that every fourth girl in the rural hinterland is getting married before attaining the age of 18.

UNICEF paints a more worrisome picture.

15 percent of girls in rural areas across the country are married before 13; and over 50 percent of girls have their first pregnancy between 15 and 19.

Krinna Shah, a campaigner for child rights explains the implication.

“It is serious. Serious enough to look at not just limited to women's rights perspective but from the point of view of child protection. Girls and boys both are being affected… rural and urban both are being affected. Increasingly boys are also getting married at a younger age. So it is a pan-India problem and its base is in child protection.”

Unusual rituals in Rajasthan persist and that makes it difficult to change the outlook of the people.

The Mausar ceremony is one such tradition of forced marriage.

Upon the death of a family member, a marriage must be solemnized in the family within 13 days in order to convert the occasion of sorrow into one of joy – even if the family members are not of marriageable age.

It is a closed door affair and the media is certainly not welcome.

Rights campaigners say child marriage triggers a series of infringements that continues throughout a girl's life.

It starts with forced initiation into sex and on-going sexual violence, resulting in early and unplanned pregnancy.

This, they say, puts her life or that of her child's at risk.

Razia Ismail is from the Indian Alliance for Child Rights.

“I see it as a chronic and continuingly very serious problem. The state does not seem confident to move to ban it. It's like child labor, you want to discourage it, you make it illegal…you do various things but you don't actually abolish it. And the same obtains for child marriage.”

But there are pockets in the country which have been waging a campaign against the traditional practice of child marriage.

At a counseling centre for under-privileged children, young girls are being sensitized.

Shaheen, a worker, is telling children of the risks confronting young brides.

“The family mistakenly perceives that it is a secure thing to marry a girl at a younger age so that she can easily socialize in a different family and also that is the security of the girl seeing the circumstances and the safe environment, the financial crunch at home and pressure from society.”

Some of the girls in their early teens have wizened up to the loss of childhood.

Afsana is a 15-year-old girl.

“I know child marriage is rampant because some families perceive having too many children as an economic burden. That is bad.”

Her colleague Naazmi is also shocked.

“It is unfortunate that a girl is denied the chance to lead a full life. And after marriage, both the boy and girl can have health problems and they don't know how to deal with the situation.”

Other countries like Niger, the Central African Republic and Malawi rank among the highest rates of child marriage.

But in terms of absolute numbers and because of the size of its population, India has the most.

Studies show India has the largest number of child brides in the world, with 47 per cent girls married under the legal age of 18.

Ms Ismail again.

“You find that children are not allowed to develop as people, they are already put into roles that are socially sanctioned rather than roles that would be their natural choice. And this is too early… too early in the formation of your life… for your to be forced into a social role into which you are actually put into an adult social function, both sexually and socially.”

India still has a long way to go in stopping child marriage.

But for many young girls, it still continues to be a harsh reality.

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