India Interior

Minors still tie the knot

Usha Rai | Updated on January 11, 2018 Published on July 14, 2017

Mouth of babes A staggering 12 million Indian children marry before the legal age, a recent study shows PTI

Seventy districts in 13 States have high incidence of child marriages

The longer a girl stays in school, the greater her chances of resisting child marriage. Sarada, who belongs to the poor Poompuhar rural community of Telangana, gave top priority to education and financial independence. Physically challenged, Sarada (20) is completing her BA in a government institution and wants to do her BEd so she can become a teacher.

Her younger sister and an older brother had to discontinue their studies to work and clear a debt taken by the family to repair their house. Sarada ensured she was not pulled out of school by complaining to the labour inspector with the support of her teacher and an SHG (self-help group) for disabled people.

During her senior secondary studies she got an annual scholarship of ₹7,000 and a monthly disability pension from the government.

Since she got no monetary help from her family, on joining college she taught children at a night school and earned ₹1,000 a month — enough to travel to college and buy books. The college fees were waived because of her disability.

Though open to the idea of an arranged marriage, education had given her the confidence to exercise her rights. She also set the terms for getting married — she should not be forced to do farm work and must be treated with respect by her in-laws.

Wedded too soon

The ‘Statistical Analysis of Child Marriage in India — Based on Census 2011’, which was recently released by Young Lives, in collaboration with the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, shows that a staggering 12 million children (7 million boys and 5 million girls) marry before the legal age.

In the 10-14 age group, though the number of marriages has declined, 1.1 million boys and 1.8 million girls were married. Seventy districts in 13 States have been identified for high incidence of child marriages. Stuti Kacker, Chairperson of NCPCR, is hopeful that the statistical analysis will help States adopt appropriate strategies to prevent child marriages.

Viewing daughters as paraya dhan (another’s wealth), parents get them married young for economic and social reasons. Rakesh Srivastava, Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development, points out that short-term economic reasons may not serve the long-term interests of girls. The 2016 National Plan of Action for Children hopes to reduce child marriages by 15 per cent by 2021. A ‘child marriage prohibition officer’ is mooted for each district.

States of worry

Dr Renu Singh of Young Lives says the analysis shows there are huge variations in the incidence of child marriage both within and across States, with rural areas showing a larger number. Thirteen of the 70 high-incidence districts are in Rajasthan, 16 in Maharashtra, six each in Gujarat and Bihar, nine each in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, three each in West Bengal, Jharkhand and Arunachal Pradesh, two each in Karnataka, Assam and undivided Andhra Pradesh, and one in Haryana.

Child rights advocates hope that such an in-depth analysis and the move for a child marriage prohibition officer in each district will offer a glimmer of hope in the efforts to end child marriages.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi

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Published on July 14, 2017
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