Thursday, January 23, 2014

Child Marriages in India

Image from Pixabay (c) Thacreations
She’s barely ten, the little girl. Her hands can’t quite hold the whole bar of soap in them – they’re still the hands of a little child. She lifts an infant off her lap, just as she has finished giving him a bath. She dabs at him with a towel, watching the little baby grinning at her. A wave of fatigue washes over her, and she just wants to give up and go to sleep. The girl has a perennial ache in her stomach, she always feels drained and tired. She is always in too much pain, and she wishes sometimes she never had to bear a son. She wishes silently that her little son understands. She loves him, of course, like any mother would love her son. But to rudely be forced to deal with motherhood at a time when she would still be dependent on her own mother – is something else altogether.  

This little girl is just 10. 

When her counterparts across the world are playing House with a doll in tow, she is actually keeping house with a real child in tow. 

Girls like this little one number more than your fingers can count. Married off at an age that pre-dates puberty or follows closely at the heels of puberty, these girls may be fertile, but are physically and medically incapable of delivering a child until their bodies are mature enough – which typically happens only after a minimum of three years after menarche. Child marriage is not only the erosion of innocence and a potentially successful future – but also has a rather disparaging effect on the physical strength, health and development of the girls themselves. Quite often, in child marriages, the “groom” is an older person, sometimes, by many decades. On an annual basis, as many as ten million girls are removed from school and forced into marriages they do not choose to be a part of. And these girls are young – nine, ten, eleven. Their childhoods are long dead, as these girls become mothers while they themselves desperately need theirs around to grow up. 

Girls are sacrificed to preserve “familial honour”, being given away in order to settle a dispute between two feuding families. If they question the marriage they are forced into, or if they try avoiding it, the name of honour is invoked to silence them. Their “conduct” in choosing a man to marry, or refusing to marry someone, or even in being raped – is believed to be detrimental to the honour of the families.

Putting an end to child marriage is not something that only the law can do. What we need is a shift in mindsets, a change in the mentality that prevails surrounding the issue. The empowerment of a girl is the empowerment of her family, and the empowerment of her future. A girl child subject to discrimination grows to be a woman abused. And that trend needs to be nipped in the bud. 

Read or Download the REF Report on Child Marriage in India (also submitted to the OHCHR) for more information on the issue