Thursday, September 22, 2005
Fight against child marriages in India
Marriage in India is illegal under the ages of 18 for girls and 21 for boys. Any marriage of a person younger than this is banned in India under the Child Marriage Prevention Act of 1929. But the practice of child-marriages is still prevalent in many parts of rural India, particularly in the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh. Few marriages in India are formally registered, religious ceremonies are regarded as socially if not legally binding, even if the people concerned are mere innocent kids. Kids who are forced to grow-up and take care of responsibilities that come along with marriage.

I am 25 years of age, for me the word 'marriage' still gives jitters, I simply can't even imagine the plight of these young girls who are forced by their parents into marriage just for the sake-off few old customs and traditions. Couple of days ago a saw a special report covered by NDTV, about a girl who fought all the odds and made an example of her victory for other girls in similar situation to follow.

Chenugapalli Susheela from Ranga Reddy district in Andhra Pradesh got married at the age of 12. It took a six-month-long battle, for her two-year marriage to her teenage husband annulled to pursue her dream of getting an education. The reason why the case is even more significant is because Susheela is a dalit, a low-caste. Dalits traditionally stay uneducated and often suffer serious human rights abuses. In the extremely backward region of Telengana, where Susheela comes from, child marriage, though illegal, is widespread.

Susheela pleaded to her parents that her husbands would get drunk her and beat her up infront of the village people and no one would come to her rescue. She also claimed that her husband was having an affair with other women. Finally the parents gave in and took her home 6 months ago.

A council of village elders agreed to grant Susheela an annulment after she went to the police, threatened to commit suicide and enlisted the help of a child protection organisation--the M Ventaramaiah Foundation. After granting her a 'divorce', under the watchful eye of the media, the police, local revenue officials and members of the MV Foundation, the council ordered her husband to return any valuables, including gold and money, he may have received as dowry.

Dalit parents often marry their daughters off early to protect them from the advances of upper caste men. "Our womenfolk are always insecure as the feudal culture of the Reddy farmers (the landed gentry in Telengana) continues even today," says Venkaiah, Susheela's father. He admits that he shouldn't have married his daughter off without her consent.

The MV Foundation has promised to help Susheela pursue her dreams of getting an education. "We are trying to put children in school. As part of the effort we have stopped several child marriages. But they are still happening because the administration is not very sensitive and proactive on this issue," says Rajendra Prasad, coordinator, M V Foundation.

Susheela's act of defiance has inspired her friends Mayina and Archana, as well as four other child brides, to walk out of their respective marriages too. Child marriage is common in this part of Andhra Pradesh, as it is in Madhya Pradesh's Dhar district where child marriage activist Shakuntala Verma was attacked for protesting against the custom.

What shocks me is that the reason often given in support of child marriages, is that it protect the girl from other men who, once she is married, may see her as being unavailable and belonging to someone else. Child marriages give the impression that, like sati, women and girls are seen as property that 'belongs' to someone - her family, her husband, her in-laws. A woman/girl is either a burden or can be 'traded' and used in any way the others see fit. If her marriage is left too late, it may mean that no one wants her and then she will be seen as being not valuable and no one will want to marry her (its horrifying that even in big cities and among educated families this is believed). She is a burden to her own family because she is an extra mouth to feed and they have to find money to spend on her dowry. Her only role in life is to do housework and to bear children.

In any case, child marriages are worse for girls than for boys, since the girls are usually younger than the boys. Marriage also puts an end to any education girls may have been receiving. And if they get pregnant while still young, their health gets much worse since their bodies are often not ready to bear children. According to the United Nations, maternal mortality i(which indicates the number of women dying in childbirth or from pregnanct-related causes) is 25 times higher for girls under 15, and two times higher for 15-19-year-olds.

To stop such child marriages, governments and civil society organisations are trying to get laws against child marriage made stronger, since it does not seem to be working in its present state. Right now the police cannot make arrests without applying for a magistrate's order, which may take days. The punishment, a maximum of three months in prison, and a fine is not enough to stop people.

Proposed changes include more punishment, a compulsory registration of all marriages rather than just religious rites, the appointment of anti-child marriage officers in every state, and making it a law that anyone who attends a child marriage has to report it.

History and reasons behind child marriages in India, have a look here...

UPDATE :

Came across this very interesting article...a must read.

The government appears unwilling to crack down on the practice with any great energy, however, and its ambivalence toward the issue is echoed with equal lethargy at every level.

"People have never taken this issue very seriously," said Jaya Sagade, the author of "Child Marriage in India," published this year by Oxford University Press. "No political party has taken proper action against it; neither has anyone in the legal fraternity.

There's a sense that it won't be possible to uproot such an entrenched custom."

The law itself is weak. Parents can theoretically be sentenced to three months' imprisonment, but they very rarely are; a survey in 2001 found that there were never more than 89 attempted prosecutions across India in any one year.

The police do not have the authority to arrest anyone about to take part in a marriage, and the bureaucracy involved in preventing one is so complicated that most weddings have already gone ahead by the time the papers are ready.

posted at 9/22/2005 01:47:00 PM | comments (14) | permalink

14 comments:

  1. Compulsory registration of marriages has its own legal problems.

    Why dont you also delve into matters like how in Maharashtra and Gujarat (the old Bombay State) - Hindu men can still marry multiple wives and get these marriages legally registered - and the Hindu Marriage Act has not been fully enforced.
     — Blogger sarbajit, at 9/23/2005 09:52:00 AM 

  2. Sakshi, child marriage is a very common and accepted practice in many sattes. and the government refuses to intervene in any way - even pass and implement stringent laws saying it is a matter of the "culture" of the people - uh, what culture? clearly it is not about culture but about politics and vote banks...
    Rajasthan is one of the worst states on all development indicators. read this recent article on the same issue - about a wman who was married at the age of 3 - a survivor and fighter - http://indiatogether.org/2005/sep/ksh-child.htm
     — Anonymous Charu, at 9/23/2005 10:30:00 AM 

  3. Sarbajit : I completely agree with you...about registration of marriages. As for multiple marriages of handful of Hindu men...its just disgusting. There is simply so much corruption in the system..even if the Hindu Marriage Act is fully enforced...i doubt that it would make much difference. Things seem to work...only when the party i.e.the women involved take a stand against the injustice done upon them.

    Charu : I had seen Uma Bharati's interview couple of months ago...i think around the time of Akhateej festival in Rajasthan...i couldnt believe the reasons that women was giving in support of child marriages. I completely agree..its all done with the goal of pleasing the un-educated public...and fillin up the vote banks.

    Thanks for the article link. I also heard about a 11 year old Muslim girl..in West Bengal..who on her own went to the local police station to file a complaint against her inlaws and husband. She has been nominated for the 'Bravery Award' this year.
     — Blogger Sakshi, at 9/23/2005 11:20:00 AM 

  4. Sakshi
    Very touching writeup indeed.What are the staistics for child marriages in India ? Do you have any idea ? Why dont the various Nari orgs. that work there make some noise abt it, just like they did with the Sati situation.
    This is preposterous, especially the story abt the girl in Andhra.
    Sourin
     — Blogger chappan, at 9/23/2005 03:26:00 PM 

  5. Sourin : There are no excat stats..that i cud find. However this is what i read in an article...

    Statistics are elusive, but estimates are that 40 to 50 percent of marriages in India involve a girl under 18 or a boy under 21, the legal ages for marriage.

    According to Unicef, 82 percent of girls in Rajasthan, where the practice is particularly widespread, are married by 18; 15 percent of girls in rural areas across the country are married before 13; and 52 percent of girls have their first pregnancy between 15 and 19.

    Child support agencies catalogue the dire consequences that follow early marriage, particularly for girls: The child's education is sacrificed; girls become more vulnerable to domestic violence and are weakened by early pregnancies; and babies born to girls under 17 are 60 percent are more likely to die during their first year of life. Unicef describes child marriage as a "gross violation of all categories of child rights."

    As for the women NGOs..well i guess they are doing their best..but its the lack of support that they are receiving from the government.
     — Blogger Sakshi, at 9/23/2005 03:49:00 PM 

  6. >> What shocks me is that the reason often given in support of child marriages, is that it protect the girl from other men who, once she is married, may see her as being unavailable and belonging to someone else.

    In an lawless village, if a girl is already "married", a crime against her becomes a crime against two families, not just one. Ofcourse if the criminal is really powerful, he/she can still get away with it. But in an unsecure environment, its still a rational choice.

    I dont know about other places, but atleast in Rajasthan, these child marriages are a two stage process. A marriage ceremony followed by a gauna ceremony. The bride does not join the husband and his family until her gauna is done a few years after the marriage. In the meanwhile, her education, vocational training can go on as usual. Sometimes, when the girl or the girls family outstrips the boys' economically in the intervening period, the marriage is annulled - although this is difficult.

    >> The punishment, a maximum of three months in prison, and a fine is not enough to stop people. Proposed changes include more punishment, a compulsory registration of all marriages rather than just religious rites, the appointment of anti-child marriage officers in every state, and making it a law that anyone who attends a child marriage has to report it.

    Hasnt worked so far, wont work in the future. Its like saying that imposition of a death sentence would bring down incidence of rape. IMO Social change cant be legislated, unless ofcourse, you are an imperial power and rule with an iron fist. It has to be gradual, and has to involve the communities in question. Perhaps starting with the introduction of the concept of gauna where its not there, and introducing communitywide minimum ages for gauna and so on.

    Sudeep
     — Anonymous Anonymous, at 9/24/2005 06:35:00 AM 

  7. Read the reality about misuse of dowry laws here-
    http://harassed-husbands.blogspot.com/
     — Blogger Bharat, at 9/29/2005 06:21:00 AM 

  8. Child Marraige is social problem in rural India, and if aware rural people can rooted out this problem from our own society so it never come again.

    And moreover in past time their are child marraige are very common, but it does not mean that bride come his in-laws home just after marraige, their is another ritual or celebration i.e. called AANA or GONA, and after perfoming this a bride goes to her in-laws home. So their is no harm to girl untill age of 20.
     — Blogger som, at 10/07/2005 09:31:00 PM 

  9. greetings,

    It is noticed that people earlier married at 13 but now people get married at 30.

    Both are not good. What is wrong in getting married young, say 16 for females.

    Just because marraige gives you the jitters, you cannot postpone it. There are sensual needs that need to be addressed and kept in check.

    If early marraige is not there the senses will take control of man. Marraige is the means of keeping the senses in check.

    Keeping the senses in check is necessary for good discipline.

    Sexual abstinence is not the answer. Discipline is good for the society.

    Therefore girls who dont get married in their late 20s are extremistic tendencies of abstinence that will recoil.
     — Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/21/2006 07:53:00 PM 

  10. i think its dumb for gurlz to be married that young iam 15 and dont plan to be married for a long time i wish all gurlz of india the best of luck!
     — Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/30/2006 07:14:00 PM 

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