There are scores of children out there who are forced to get married at a tender age and suffer the rough life of a wife, a mother, and a daughter-in-law, to say the least. Why is it so? Why does a female child have to bear the brunt of a torturous married life at such a tender age?
Says Helen G Tayle, a doctor and the CEO of The Chicago Community Trust, one of America's leading community foundations, "Child marriage is found to be prevalent among those sections of society who live in abject poverty."
"My parents bartered me in exchange for a girl whom my brother needed to marry," says a 16-year-old Rajasthani girl. In another account, 11-year-old Nikita from Doodiya, a remote village in Madhya Pradesh, is purported to have got married very late, when compared to her uncle's daughter who was given in marriage at the age of 5.
A child-marriage is defined as one where the boy is under 21 years of age, and the girl is under 18 years of age. According to reports from UNICEF, 27% of girls in India are married off before they are 18, and a good 7% even before they complete 15 years of age.
Regulations like The Prohibition of child marriage Act 2006 are in vogue, yet it’s a wonder that India ranks the highest in child marriages. Here the patriarchal mind-set does have a role to play.
Females are considered as good for nothing but as natural homemakers. There is a stigma attached that women in general are not capable of protecting themselves from the dangerous world outside. So, they need to be confined to the four walls of the house, is the widespread, yet wrong notion. A terrible misunderstanding indeed!
Teenaged girls who are forced into marriage suffer the risk of hard labour and difficult child-birth, often giving birth to weak and unhealthy babies, mainly on account of their own psychological and physical immaturity. These tender mothers often have still-births, or even worse is the fact that such babies and even their mothers have a greater mortality rate. They turn out to be less capable in the role of a mother. A physically, mentally, emotionally deficient generation is what results.
It is estimated that 650 million women worldwide have been married in childhood itself. Of these, half the number is shared among five countries - India, Brazil, Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Nigeria.
The pandemic has made matters worse. With schools closed for months together, child-marriage seemed to be the only solution for poor families who were already struggling to make ends meet. The economic stress brought about child-marriages, teenage pregnancies, and parental deaths. It’s sad to say, but orphaned children, school drop-outs, unwanted pregnancies, sexual abuse and what not, did Covid-19 bring along.
When Smriti Irani, Minister for Women and Child Development, on 21st December 2021, stood up in the Lok Sabha to introduce the Bill for enhancing the age of marriage for girls from 18 to 21, objections were raised from the Opposition Members. They demanded that the Bill be sent to the Parliamentary Standing Committee. Later, the Minister announced the Government's intention to send it to the Standing Committee.
A good government, a good society, a good parent should prepare the child for its path and not introduce a path for the child to follow on. Each girl has her own dream, which she would like to pursue and achieve. They cannot study beyond Intermediate courses if they get married when they are 18. They too wish to study further, to earn a living, to support their parents, to save for their future... Shouldn’t we allow them that freedom? Aren’t they capable? Of course, they are! Let us not clip their wings.
Bachendri Pal at 29 made history when she scaled the highest mountain peak -- Mt. Everest, on May 23, 1984. Her dream was born at the tender age of 12 when she went on a picnic from school. Along with her friends she climbed to the top. A child's dream later became a young lady's vision - a vision fulfilled.
We need to nurture and fortify our girl children, and to educate them, so that they grow into emotionally balanced, good, loving and caring human beings, fruitful both for the family in particular, and for society in general. Let us join hands and do our bit towards this end.