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.
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.