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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When Words Hurt!

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me!

Remember these words we used to chant as a mantra in school when bullies said mean things to us? Verbal abuse is a powerful powerful weapon. In school yards, playgrounds, offices, even in our homes {domestic violence} – words hurt. We learn that as children we are still adjusting to everyone’s sensibilities and that we are untactful at times. So the easiest weapon then, was to let it roll off your back.

Times are a little different now. With the rise in technological advancements, social media has been booming. Every child of this age understands how to use a smartphone, tablet or computer, at a rather early age at that. Hiding behind a screen, makes even those who are meek, bolder. Thus giving rise to the most problematic trend in our country among the youth – ranking us in the top globally – Cyberbullying.

What is Cyberbullying?
Instead of face to face bullying, it’s bullying from behind electronic technology. Tagging inappropriate photos, tagging and name-calling publicly on the web and spreading rumours are some such examples.

What are the various types of bullying?

  1. Physical – which is violence on another person. Face to face, where a person, or gang of persons hit, pull, break or steal something from another person.
  2. Societal – which involves discriminating against another, spreading rumours or using peer pressure to exclude a person from friendships.
  3. Verbal – which is bullying using hurtful words, name-calling and threats on another person.
  4. Cyber – which is bullying by sending mean texts, prank calls, stalking someone through social media and shaming through the internet.

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Why is Cyberbullying a concern?
According to a survey conducted last year among four other countries, results showed that 81% of children from the age of 8 – 17 years had access to social media sites, with 22% being bullied online, 52% admitted to bullying others and about 70% admitted seeing, understanding bullying online.

Yes, the numbers are shocking, yes India ranks highest on these charts among the other countries. But the cause for concern is that Cyberbulling is particularly vicious. Being behind a screen gives everyone a false sense of security spewing hate or horrible comments, and with the victims spurious rebuttals, it becomes a game that gets engaged in longer and longer.

It affects the victims self esteems and at times affects social lives outside of the cyber world. In a few cases, victims have ended up physically hurting themselves because of this.

Another, main concern is that the level of aggression among the bullied is high, even among the aggressors. This aggression either is used physically on the abusers face to face or the victims turn bullies themselves. A horrific cycle of hurt.

What are the signs of being Cyberbullied?

  1. Avoids use of mobile devices or computers
  2. Suddenly deletes social media accounts
  3. Becomes moodier after receiving emails and/or messages
  4. Is more secretive than usual about online activities
  5. Is reluctant to go to school and avoids social contact
  6. Grades and school performance fall
  7. Appears more frustrated, impatient or angry than usual
  8. Has trouble sleeping

What can be done?

We all know the world is not a safe place, the cyber world is the same. The haunting reality is that the numbers are rising, the aggression online is tripling.

  1. Awareness needs to be built on the subject among students, parents and educators as well. It is prevalent and it affects everyone involved.
  2. Teaching safety is a priority. Children need to learn to protect themselves online and certain rules need to be in place set by the parents.
  3. Keeping communication lines open between parent and child helps when the child needs help about their online activities.

Here is a video that aptly discusses cyberbullying and what to do about it here.

 

When No Means NO!

We’ve heard whispers of it growing up. We’ve giggled in scorn over it at times. We’ve passed judgement without clearly understanding the facts. We’ve claimed ignorance in this because it never happened to us!

However, it isn’t fair to be part of this world, where we know injustices occur and expect to turn a blind eye in all the brash knowledge of a youth that it wont happen to us. It could. It could happen to someone you know and you could help them.

You dig into the archives and even Google it, you will chance upon statistic upon statistic. Sexual harassment is quite prevalent, it’s just not addressed. It happens to both women and men. It can be a woman or a man who sexually harasses. Unfortunately not many people come out and state it because of the embarrassment and scorn they know/feel they will face.

The workplace is a common place that this occurs at, and there are laws that are in place that protects an employee being harassed.

Sexual harassment is an – unwelcome sexual gesture or behaviour aimed or having a tendency to outrage the modesty of woman directly or indirectly. It includes:

  • Sexually coloured remarks

  • Physical contact and advances

  • Showing pornography

  • A demand or request for sexual favours

  • Any other unwelcome physical, verbal/non-verbal – such as whistling, obscene jokes, comments about physical appearances, threats, innuendos, gender based derogatory remarks, etc.

Additionally it recognises the promise or threat to a woman’s employment prospects or creation of hostile work environment as ‘sexual harassment’ at workplace and expressly seeks to prohibit such acts.

Find out more about sexual harassment, not just as a means to arm yourself or a friend, but also in a way to shun those whispers to the background. Sexual harassment is a crime. It is not the victims fault. Sexual harassment is never encouraged. It is never entertained. It is feared by the victim. Judging a victim or passing along blame never helps anyone.

 

Do We Know HER Concerns in Today’s World?

The world today is moving at a faster pace. Socio-economic brackets have shifted, continents are closer; all this because of technological and developmental reforms. So really we are a lot more advanced, a lot more informed, and hence a lot more connected to every human being on this planet. However, though we have educated and ensured that more women’s concerns are addressed, we are not making too much of a dent in the advancement of the equality of the sexes.

Life is a lot more comfortable for your regular young person these days. Smart phones have overtaken the landline telephones – we know where, what or with whom a young person is with now. Constant electricity – that in the event of a shortage of power or perhaps a crisis, living without electricity becomes quite a drag. But these are all middle socio-economic problems, that are by no means a concern.

What truly is a concern is that the other young people do not have these extra luxuries we enjoy these days, in the urban and rural landscape. Smart phones are not that common there, neither is constant electricity. Then again, secure bathroom facilities are a rarity there, since houses are not built with a connected toilet. So what is the concern here? The fact that they don’t have the luxuries that the city folk enjoy? Or is the basic necessities that they are not afforded that we sympathise with and move along helplessly?

 A young woman in the rural area still believes she needs to follow the path set before her and not buck the hand that holds her down. A young man believes he has every right to exploit the women in his life, because they do not require respect.

The concern today is a very daunting topic. Do we know about the concerns of the young women in today’s world? Do we see their concerns? Do we hear more about their needs and the atrocities they face? Do we pass along the knowledge we have in an attempt to build a social movement? The answer sadly is . . . not that encouraging.