The legal age for marriage in India is 18 years for girls and 21 years for boys. The flouting of this law is obviously punishable. But that does not stop child marriage from being rampant across the country even in this day and age. It is often a manifestation of gender inequality, reflecting social norms that perpetuate discrimination against girls. There is an entire range of socio-economic and cultural perspectives around child marriage that prevails across castes and class and fortifies its existence in society.
Although child marriage affects both boys and girls, in most cases, it is the girl children that are affected. Being seen as ‘liabilities’ since birth, traditionally the attitude of the society has been to get her married as early as possible. The justification used by parents and the community is that of having to pay lower dowry when the bride and the groom are young. What they seem to forget is that giving or receiving dowry is a crime under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. Safety of the girl child from sexual violence and the inability of parents to guarantee such safety is yet another justification for child marriage. There is a belief that child marriage is a protection for girls against unwanted male attention and promiscuity. Early marriage is a way to ensure chastity and virginity of the bride. Parents see marriage as a way to secure the girl’s future socially and economically.
Lack of education and awareness about the consequences of child marriage, poor implementation of the law and lack of will and action on the part of the administration are important reasons for the continuation of child marriage. For girls early marriage is the beginning of frequent and unprotected sexual activity which has serious health consequences. Underage marriages often lead to early motherhood and high risk health problems. This not only affects the mother, but even the infant born is malnourished and prone to being ill. In almost all cases, education comes to a complete halt.
CRY’s efforts to minimize the incidences of child marriage include:
- Capacity building sessions on child marriage and its ill effect on health & family
- Meeting parents with the help of CRY’s partner NGOs to discuss on delaying the marriage
- Community sensitisation programmes on a regular basis
- Capacity building of children’s collectives to ensure that they spread awareness to their peers and take a role in discouraging child marriage amongst them.
- Focused discussions on preventing child marriage among the Women collective members
- Orientation and sensitisation sessions for the religious leaders who hold influential positions in the communities
- Working with the Panchayats and other government officials like the Child Marriage Prohibition Officer to spread awareness regarding the issue and in prevention of child marriage
Child marriage denies children their basic rights to good health, nutrition, education, and freedom from violence, abuse and exploitation. All children have a right to care and protection; to develop and grow to his/her full potential, regardless of their social and economic situation. Child marriage is a blatant violation of all these rights.
Donate now to ensure that children are not subjected to this social evil in the name of traditions.