The How, Why & What of Indian Child Marriages

We know the legal age limits for men and women in India, but I’m sure, most of us have not questioned it. Nor have we asked why is the legal limit very very serious. Did you know, the legal limit used to be 18 and 14 for boys and girls respectively? Did you also know that India ranks 10th in the world for it’s child marriages? Shocking isn’t it? Here’s more information at your fingertips.

ORIGIN STORIES : 

There is controversy over how child marriages occurred, some blame a certain religion, others blamed marauding camps attacking girls that for their security they were married off. However, there are signs that before the 19th century, there was child marriage world over. Basically, there is no conclusive reasoning for why it’s now important for Hindus or Muslims to marry their children before the consent age.

THE STATISTICS OF IT ALL : 

Nearly 12 million children (boys and girls) below the age of 10 were married according to a survey in 2016. More so in the rural areas than in the urban areas is what the stats seem to showcase.

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THE LAWS :

The 1929 child marriage law, firmly defined what constituted as a child and placed the legal age limits as 18 for girls and 21 for boys. There were consequences listed as well within this law, however, it proved tedious to follow through.

The 2006 child marriage law, was more stringent in terms of the name, the options for voiding a child marriage and more stringent consequences were listed. It also allowed for a girl to nullify the marriage and to be provided for monetarily till she was of legal age or she was married.

While these laws applied to the entire nation at large, the Muslim clergy spoke against this invasion into their personal law, as marriage was a religious event, not something that the law should be interfering with. There are many debates centring over this topic, and while both sides have a point, the main issue is about protecting a child’s innocence than a personal insult against a religion.

REASONS FOR A CHILD MARRIAGE :

Whatever the origin story, whatever the stats or the laws, it’s still disconcerting that child marriage is a thing. To most of us in the urban and privileged background, we cannot understand why child marriage occurs in the first place.

RELIGION, is one of the primary reasons for child marriages. Tradition and religious rights dictates a lot of our lives and it follows through with this as well. However, it does go a little more deeper, with the issue of DOWRY for a girl child. The later a girl takes to get married, the more dowry is required by the groom’s family – even though dowry is a serious offence. POVERTY, is another reason for child marriages as this ensures monetary gain through a successful alliance – a throwback to the old days of alliances formed between families. It also helps cut out extra EXPENSES such as daily amenities and education for the child.

CONSEQUENCES OF A CHILD MARRAIGE:

Yes, it is true there are bound to be consequences to violating a law, whether it is tradition, religion or poverty at play. Children need a certain maturity to make decisions, especially with something important as the institution of marriage.

Marriage, even with guardians dictating the way they live, there are issues pertaining to HEALTH of both children. They need to know about sex – safe sex to be exact. Most child marriages also occur where there is a high prevalence of illiteracy, so EDUCATION pertaining to anything relating to hygiene, good nutrition and sex education will be limited or sparse.

MORTALITY RATES is higher in these circumstances, because they don’t know how to take care of themselves when they are pregnant, nor do they know how to care for their babies nutrition, hygiene, etc. With no proper guidance, they also are unable to decide about FAMILY PLANNING and thus have a high prevalence of unexpected pregnancies, with unfortunately a few leading to PREGNANCY TERMINATIONS, such as miscarriages, stillbirths, etc.

Another surprising consequence of child marriage is DOMESTIC VIOLENCE. Younger girls are more open to domestic and sexual abuse from their husbands than girls at 18 years and older.

IS THIS REALLY A MAJOR PROBLEM ?

Yes, child marriages are a problem, not just for the VICTIMS in a child marriage, but also society and the country at large. If the children are allowed their right to education, there are a vast variety of benefits.

Girls once educated are able to take care of the HYGIENE and NUTRITION of the family. Educated girls are also able to family plan and thus in effect this brings down the POPULATION at large. Bringing the population down, also helps with each nuclear family having sufficient funds for their children. Having more than one child can be a CHOICE and not something unwanted that stresses the FAMILY FINANCES.

Educated girls also bring down the MORTALITY RATES of both pregnant girls and infants.  And at this point, though it might be a big ask, DOMESTIC ABUSE can be curtailed with older women knowing their rights and how to get help from it.

This all boils down to one main thing, EDUCATING children and letting them enjoy their childhood without forcing them to grow up unnecessarily.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

You can join the YWCA of India in taking part in the advocacy issue of fighting against child marriage among other things. Forming think tanks to protect the rights of other children and helping them get their basic rights. Educating those around you to raise awareness about this issue.

 

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Pink for Girls, Blue for Boys?

‘Good News’ in India is celebrated with such enthusiasm that the happy couple are surrounded by so many well wishers from family to friends. The next step in this, ‘Good News’ saga is to buy everything under the sun for the new baby in the family. However, that sends us down another road of what gender is the baby going to be? For generations we have been informed that blue is for boys and pink for girls. It’s tradition really, and we do not mess with tradition.

How did this tradition actually set in though?

This leads us back to the world history of how this gender specific colour formed. From the early 1800s white was the norm for babies to toddlers. White dresses to be specific. It was easier to lift to clean dirty diapers {cloth diapers in those days} and far far easier to bleach when those dirty diapers exploded.

The fashion changed to different shades later when colours were introduced, however, it was still dresses – because of the ease of changing diapers. In fact, around 1918, in the US a statement was made about how, ‘Pink was a strong colour and hence for boys and blue was a softer, fragile colour, hence it was for girls.’ There doesn’t seem to be much backing for this story though and has hence been dubbed as an urban legend.

Ladies’ Home Journal article in June 1918 said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies, according to Paoletti.

In 1927, Time magazine printed a chart showing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. stores. In Boston, Filene’s told parents to dress boys in pink. So did Best & Co. in New York City, Halle’s in Cleveland and Marshall Field in Chicago.

What did get recorded as fact, was a graphical representation on a map in the US of what colours departmental stores used for boys and girls, in the Time magazine in 1927. Even then, pink was subscribed for boys and blue for girls.

When did this trend change? 

The shift to pink for girls and blue for boys happened just right after World War II, during a time when mass marketing was just starting. Gender specific became the norm, because it was easier to market it as thus. In a time when the fear of the wars had bled into everyone’s psyche, society inadvertently built a structure of what was normal and what wasn’t. Marketing managed to weave a ploy around this.

What cemented the notion though was France, the leader in fashion. Traditional French fashion had girls in pink and boys in blue, however, the rest of Europe had the opposite. Early 20th century, tradition and marketing built the notion that gender specific colours were pink and blue and that has stuck since then.

Gender specific for the win

Mass producing for the baby industries became easier and they raked in more money because of this. They sold a concept that just wasn’t true. Science has found that while men and women do register on different regions of the colour spectrum, it has not found that they identify to pink or blue respectively.

How about here in India?

In the Indian context, the gender specific notion is a fairly new phenomena, considering the vast economic growth of this developing nation. Buying gender specific colours before the baby is born is also a tricky concept considering our laws are against finding out the sex of the baby – due to our female infanticide rates. However, we have been buying into the trend of how babies need to be dressed in one specific colour and not. Our shopping malls and baby centred shops have very specific colours for a boy and a girl. Another aspect that could be perpetuating this notion could be our culture as well, where girls have to be in glittery frills and boys in sober pants.

In Conclusion . . . 

Traditionally, girls are dressed in brighter, fun shades, while boys have sober, darker shades. Boys get dirtier, girls do not. Boys run around, girls do not. Girls only identify being a princess, boys love dragons. Stereotypical norms have been set in place, have been for centuries and messing with it as expected creates friction. Whatever the current scenario, it is interesting to mull over the fact that neutral dresses were the norm and pink was subscribed for boys than girls.

 

 

Ringing the Warning Bell

We’ve heard about climate change. We’ve heard why it’s important to be vigilant. We some times prefer not to know, because we assume it does not affect us, but the future. However, the future is not so distant as we like to believe.

Leonardo Dicaprio’s film Before the Flood, is a documentary that meets with scientists, world leaders and activists to fully understand climate change, how we can change individual behaviour to protect the future and also, most importantly it promotes hope. Something, that most activists, environmentalists and climate change scientists forget to include in their discourse.

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picture credit: Pete McBride from National Geographic

In Iceland, land is rising as fast a 1.4 inches per year in certain areas as a result of climate change. The melting of the country’s glaciers reduces pressure on the land below and allows the surface to rise.

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picture credit: Thomas Peschak from National Geographic

While in Mexico, off the seas of La Paz, the Sea of Cortez has murky green rough waters, this year, the unusual climatic and oceanographic conditions resulted in ultra calm and clear waters.

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picture credit: Brian Skerry from National Geographic

In the High Arctic near Navy Board Inlet, Canada, the sea ice has been declining in recent years. It is predicted in a year or two, the North pole will be ice free in the summer, meaning the ships will be able to pass over the pole for the first time in recorded history.

Meanwhile, in Belize, they are celebrating 20 years of their world heritage site, the Belize Barrier System Reserve System. The country’s laws protect this large reef ecosystem in the Atlantic-Carribean region (the second largest in the world).

Which brings us around to, the burden to protect our planet, rests in our politicians hands. Which, was true for our Indian Tigers. In 1973, a political framework was put in place by Indira Gandhi to protect our tigers. A Wildlife Act that banned hunting of wildlife {mainly tigers}, that also allowed for creating sanctuaries and national parks with strict measures ensuring the safety of the land and the wildlife within.

However, the Tiger initiative has had its ups and downs till date, with more activists and celebrities backing the project. However, nothing ensures results when any initiative has complete political backing and that has fallen short over the years.

This does not mean that we as individuals still cannot do something to help. During the floods in Chennai, a group of people came together and over the weekends following the flood, they cleaned up the beach and a few areas of all the plastic and other debris washed in by the river Cooum.

Another initiative started by a social organisation Grow-Trees.com, identifies locations that need tree cover in India, that will enable the wildlife as well as the tribals in that area, while giving you the opportunity to donate an amount in your name or in another person’s name allowing for a ‘grove of trees’ to be planted.

There are many more programmes that are out there that depend on individual support, volunteering and effort. The bottom line however is very simple, climate change is real. Climate change is happening. Do watch ‘Before the Flood’, the documentary if you can, and share the information with all around you.

 

Stereotypes & Prejudice

Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible. – Maya Agelou

As little children, we have no notion of he, she, it, muslim, hindu, or any specific gender stereotype or any other prejudice for that matter. A child’s viewpoint is very clear cut, do I get fed this? Do I get my way? Do I get to sleep, or eat or play with this? Will this person give me what I want?

Growing up, things change. We know/identify another person based on the way they look, act or talk. We identify an object based on the colours, tastes, etc. in relation to our already formed concepts learned from society.

Blue is for girls, Pink for Boys?! 

Earlier, boys and girls would actually wear white. Before marketers tried to hard sell their wares to mom’s worldwide, little children would wear gender neutral patterns, colours and pinks, blues were never actively segregated. Come early 20th century, the marketers managed to convince the whole world that pink was for girls and blue for boys. Studies have not found any conclusive evidence to support that girls do prefer pink and boys blue. In fact, pink seems to be the most hated colour world over among adults. However, thanks to clothes manufacturers, pink is associated for girls and blue for boys.

Dresses for girls, and Pants for boys

Again, early 1900s and before, white dresses were the clothes that little boys and girls would wear. It was easier to clean (considering they had cloth diapers then). As the child grew older, gender neutral colours were introduced but it was still dresses that both boys and girls wore. Enter clothes manufacturers and their amazing marketing technique and we have dresses and pants introduced. However, early 20th century parents used either or to dress their little children in. Pants were also worn on little girls than just the dresses. Gender neutral seemed to be the theme, till the marketers managed to change things around to the world we know today.

Blocks for boys, Princesses for girls? 

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Those earlier concepts grew from abroad and have entered the Indian mindset as well. It’s become a general concept – pink for girls, blue for boys. It’s worked well for our marketing giants because they can sell you something gender specific and thus make you believe that boys only prefer cars and blocks, while your little girl only wants kitchen utensils and play princesses {oh the irony, because really, princesses don’t lift a finger in the kitchen!}. However, studies unfortunately do not support this claim either. Lego the building blocks giant was once asked by a little girl, that she would love to be an astronaut one day, but the dolls they created were only boys! New-parents worry that their sons discard their cars for the kitchen utensils that they take from their kitchen and start cooking, mimicking the mother. What will society think?!

A boy will become a man, and a girl a woman! 

Gender specific roles have bled into our daily lives. There’s no doubt about it. The manufacturers were geniuses and deserve a pat on their back for the way they have shaped the world. However, the gender specificity they have helped create is creating a world that is divided and more confused. Parents worry when their little boy plays dress up, it’s girl play they say. Most fashion designers are men. A girl plays dinosaur or sports more than cooking and dolls, parents worry. However, many famous anthropologists/zoologists were women. But let’s leave the future where it should be, in the future and look at the present.

Neil DeGrasse once explained to a little girl that while she banged a wooden spoon on a metal tin, her young mind was learning the different sounds she could make on that pot. She was curious and that curiosity would then lead her to more experiments in science. Children experiment in some form or the other, their imagination runs wild and honestly they don’t need too many toys to get them going. Cars could be getting cooked in a pot one day, to a game of dress up in mommy and daddy’s clothes another, to a baking experiment with a dinosaur in mom’s baking tin. Their minds are growing, they are learning – quicker than we give them credit. Giving them the freedom to explore, gives them the freedom to be more open and non-prejudiced.

India a land full of Prejudice?

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We as adults have notions from experience or from our parents/family/friends’ experiences. Despite the gender stereotypes, there are religious, political, national stereotypes as well. You’ve heard them:

  • Fair and tall is beautiful and handsome.
  • Red heads have wild tempers. 
  • Japanese are workaholics and have a stringent work culture. 
  • Brahmins are xenophobic, because they prefer their culture and ways.
  • Christians are drunks. 
  • Muslims are terrorists. 
  • India is the land of rape. 

In India we find we are more judgemental than other countries. Our caste, our religion, our culture, are all reasons for forming opinions without getting to know another person, religion, culture. The statements above we have heard them a time a many, but we don’t bother correcting these notions or learning to look beyond the preconceived notions.

Even dark skinned people are very striking and beautiful – however, our age old notions and cultures believe only a fair woman would make a lovely wife. After the horrific rapes reported in our country, we as a nation put ourselves down worldwide but accepting the tag ‘land of rape’ by perpetuating a notion that every low-socio economic man is a rapist.

Our pride in our country, is lacking. Education about learning about other cultures religions, other people, is lacking. Religious sentiments or respecting another’s religion, is lacking. Believing a prejudice to be true and not bothering to go beyond the prejudice, is appalling. That is the reason gender stereotypes and prejudices set in. We have become a closed group of people, unwilling to look out and learn more.

What we could do?

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There was a viral video recently about a little girl questioning adults notions of what tag lines are appropriate for a girls t-shirt and a boys. Why do people assume girls don’t want adventure as well?  There have been studies done checking how much the stereotype affects them. Girls and boys were given a math quiz and scored fairly well, with a majority of the girls having scored higher. Give the same quiz to a group of students stating girls anyway are bad at math and the girls don’t do so well. We joke about stereotypes without realising the effect they have on other people or even on us, however, like the girl  in that video, we should be questioning prejudices/stereotypes.

  1. Why can’t short be handsome as well? Why is dark not beautiful?
  2. Why are boys better chefs? Why when girls are meant to cook day in and day out, that they don’t become chefs? 
  3. Why are girls expected to give up their career to be a stay at home mom? Why cannot men do the same and let the woman follow her career? 
  4. Why are marketing giants only focused on pink and blue? What about gender neutral colours? 
  5. Why are we sure men perform better academically and provide for the family? 
  6. Can we find out more about another religion without affecting our religious sentiments or theirs? 
  7. Can we find our more about the history of other countries than just the usual?

Education is the key. Learning, spreading and questioning are the keys to breaking these barriers that we have placed on ourselves and others around us.