oliticians of India are a curse; on the one hand, Prime Minister Narendra Modi shouting slogans “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” (save girl child and educate her). But that was for political mileage! In reality, the picture is very cruel and no state government or central government has made any efforts to save the girl child. Rape, abuse, molestation, honour killing — all these are happening on a daily basis but the law is clueless. There are many reasons for child marriage in India and multiple barriers to its elimination. Poverty, weak enforcement of laws, patriarchal social norms intended to ensure family honour are significant factors that increase the risk of a girl being married off while still a child. Also, girls from poor households are more likely to marry as children since marriage becomes a solution to reduce the size of the family. The cost of marriage plays a big role in families sliding further into poverty and these high costs contribute to girls being forced to marry when other ceremonies are taking place in the family or when older siblings are being married. Neither the government could address poverty nor girl’s safety. Moreover, some of the BJP leaders were more vocal in advocating child marriages.
Child marriage is another curse; India has the largest number of child brides in the world. One out of every three women (20-24 years) in rural India is married before she is 18. Globally, the proportion of women aged between 20 and 24 (who were married before their 18th birthday) dropped from 32 per cent around 1990 to 26 per cent around 2015.
Evidently, early marriages have social acceptance and this attributes to the low number of reported cases in India. Girls standing up to stop their own marriage also get resolved without any case lodged against parents. As per NCRB, 169, 222 and 280 cases have been registered under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 in 2012, 2013 and 2014 respectively, and in 2016, it is 326. This indicates that reporting of child marriage has increased. Another dilemma is lack of age proof. Birth certificates are not made for girl children and hence, the reporting becomes difficult. Child marriage is a violation of child rights and has a negative impact on physical growth, health, mental and emotional development, and education opportunities. It also affects society as a whole since child marriage reinforces a cycle of poverty and perpetuates gender discrimination, illiteracy, and malnutrition as well as high infant and maternal mortality rates. Child marriage can be seen across the country but it is far higher in the rural than in the urban areas. Girls from poorer families, scheduled castes and tribes, and with lower education levels are more likely to marry at a younger age. Because there are limited education opportunities, low quality of education, inadequate infrastructure, lack of transport, and therefore, concerns about girls’ safety while travelling to school significantly contribute to keeping girls out of school and therefore, it tends to favour child marriage. Although there is a widespread awareness of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 (PCMA) and the illegality of child marriage, individually people feel that the traditions and norms are stronger than the law and the institutions and rarely report cases. On top of this, there is limited capacity among the officials and lack of willingness to go against community decisions, since officials are themselves part of the community. And above all, the politicians to gain vote assure further non-interference. We might be fighting for equality, no gender biases but girls are often seen as a liability with the limited economic role. Women’s work is confined to the household and is not valued. In addition, there is the problem of dowry. Despite the fact that dowry has been prohibited for five decades (Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961), it is still common for parents of girls in India to give gifts to the groom and/or his family either in cash or kind. The dowry amount increases with the age and the education level of the girl. Hence, the “incentive” of the system of dowry perpetuates child marriage.
Law enforcement to prohibit child marriage is relatively weak. Limited and detailed knowledge on how to apply laws and little understanding of the consequences of the laws, as well as limited trust in institutions enforcing them, undermines the implementation of the PCMA.
We all know that the Child Marriage is widespread across India, with nearly half of brides married as girls. While there has been a decline in the incidence of child marriage nationally (from 54 per cent in 1992-93 to 27 per cent in 2016) and in nearly all states, the pace of change remains slow, especially for girls in the age group 15-18 years. There are also variations across different groups, particularly excluded communities, castes, and tribes — those are the vote bank of the political parties. A girl with 10 years of education has a six times lower chance of being pushed into marriage before she is 18. Otherwise, they face violence, abuse, and exposure to HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases because they have fewer skills and less negotiating power. Nearly 13 per cent of married girls between 15-19 years of age experience sexual violence by their husbands compared with 10 per cent of women experiencing such violence between the age group of 30-39.
We the people randomly talk about it, present statistics, and feel bad about it but just feeling bad is no solution to growing problems. Hope every citizen senses responsibility and the politicians who advocate early marriages realize what they are up to.
– With Inputs from Agencies
(Any suggestions, comments or dispute with regards to this article send us on [email protected])