EARLY MARRIAGE OF GIRL CHILDREN IN INDIA
Children in India face basic rights violations in various forms. This starts from conception in the mother’s womb till they complete their childhood. This is common across male and female child, while the girl child has specific areas of their rights being violated, given the cultural, social and religious value systems. To highlights various forms of child rights violation in India.......
- Out of every 1000 children born in India, 31 die before they are one year old.
- Girls are particularly neglected and many die early.
- Many girl babies are killed even before they are born across India. In terms of male female ratio, the situation stands at 1000 men against 923 women.
- 40 million children in India work as child labourers and are deprived of basic right to schooling or any other form of education
- More than 40,000 children are trafficked and kidnapped by agents or brokers from poor rural areas and city schools and are sold as domestic servants and in child prostitution
- These trafficked children face various forms of abuse in every sense (physical, emotional and social deprivation)
- Child abuse within the family system is quite common and most of the time it goes unexposed on account of social stigma and culture.
At the National level children from Dalits (Untouchable) and Adivasi (Tribal) are the worst deprived of all basic rights and vulnerable to various/range of rights violations.
Early marriage was a norm in medieval India. Girls were married off at the age of 8-10. They were not allowed access to education and were treated as the material being. The plight of the early married girls can be imagined by one of that animals, illiterates, lower castes and such girls including their women hood should be subjected to beating. Thus girls were compared with animals and were married off at an early age. The early marriage along with it brought some more problems such as increased birth rate, poor health of women due to repeated child bearing and high mortality rate of women and children.
Early marriage below 18 has been illegal by law, but still it exists rampantly across India in many States. The practice of girls marrying at a young age is most common in the states of Tamil nadu, Karnataka and Andrapradesh, specifically among few social and cultural groups – especially among Dalits, Tribals and in some of the other caste groups. Around 40% of the girls in these sections of population are married before they are 15 and in some cases marriages earlier than puberty are not unusual.
The major evil present in the southern states include the custom of Devadasis. . In this system girls were dedicated to temples in the name of gods and goddesses. The girls were then onwards known as 'Devadasis' meaning servant of god. These Devadasis were supposed to live the life of celibacy. This practice is attributed to the religious cult and any child born to such devadasis are traditionally bound to practice devadasi.
Major reasons attributed for early marriage include....
- Poor families view girl child as burden which leads to the practice of illegal sex-selective abortion (750 to 850 girls are born per 1000 boys)
- Rampant dowry system (giving bride price)
- Parents from poor dalit and tribal families view early marriage as protection against dangers of sexual assault
- Early marriage and young girls getting married to men above 60 is common among naicker community from family property protection perspective
- Gender discrimination is another reason for young girls are very submissive and practice the culture of silence towards gender discrimination. This practice reiterates the traditional gender norms.
- Value system around virginity. It is believed that men only want to marry virgins. Hence parents fear that their daughters will engage in premarital sex, and this would bring dishonor to the family. The earlier parents marry their daughter, the more they feel they ensure her virginity
Early marriage has many serious harmful consequences for children, including:
- Girls married early are denied of their education rights. Once married, girls tend not to go to school.
- Early marriage also results in early widowhood in the region. Most girls who are married to elderly men on account of protection of family property, loose their husband very early and turn out to be a reject in the society. This also denies their participatory rights right at the young age.
- Early married girls have a double pregnancy death rate of women in their 20s.
- Additionally, from having babies too young, girls are at an extremely high risk for vaginal and anal ruptures.
- The babies of young married girls are sick and weaker and many do not survive childhood.
- Early married girls are in high risk of being infected with sexually transmitted diseases.
- These young girls are at an increased risk of chronic anemia and obesity.
- Girls married early have poor access to contraception. In most cases HIV infection is commonly identified among girls who married at early years.
- Death cause for young girls between the ages of 15 and 19 is early pregnancy.
- These young girls have a lack of educational opportunities.
- Being forced into an early marriage creates a lifetime of poverty.
- Most girls who are married before 18 are face with domestic violence, sexual abuse, and murder. Children who refuse to marry or who choose a marriage partner against the wishes of their parents are often punished or even killed by their families in so-called ‘honour killings.
There are ways to solve this problem by increasing consciousness, on gender equity, mainstreaming child rights perspective through appropriate approach, lobby and advocacy, local level institutions building and networking. Here are some of the ways used by RCPDS to asddress the issue.
- RCPDS provide education to the parents as equally with children, especially girls. Education broadens their horizons and helps them to withstand oppressive forces of custom, culture and question the earlier situation and make their children educated.
- Making the issue of early marriage as key discussion point clubbed with girl child education into the self help group approach linked with child rights perspective is another key area of intervention.
- By doing this those women who got married earlier in their childhood are able to articulate their feelings of deprivation, struggles they went through, health problems faced, social atrocities on them, abuse, etc. These reflections and internalisation at the SHG levels then taken as movement at the apex levels (CLA and Federation) as issues for lobby and advocacy and peer pressure.
- RCPDS also intervene directly with adolescent girls by importing education beyond academics in the areas of child rights protection, self defence against any form of abuse, building solidarity through children movements, basic health, opportunity for counselling, demystify adolescence and awareness on HIV/AIDS.
- Building awareness on caste and culture based deprivations related to early marriage along with life skills, including gender neutral fun and more attraction towards sports is proving a positive way to change the lives and futures of these adolescent girls.
- By creating a strong advocacy and lobby platform and simplified knowledge on legal support system proved to be the best way of addressing early marriage and we have been successful through our Federation in drastically reducing the incidence of early marriage in our work intervention
Ramalakshmi, a dalit child, who was 13 years, when she forced by her widowed mother to get married. She never knew that she is going to get married the previous night and she thought that she will go for cattle grazing along with mother as usual. The family was making its living by grazing the goats of higher caste families as contract labourer. Being a widow and from dalit family, Ramalakshmi’s mother very much worried about the future and social security of the young girl. Thus crippled with various factors such as poverty, social exclusion, insecurity, lack of education (both mother and daughter) the mother decided to give her in marriage with one of her first cousin, an aunt's son who was 28.
Ramalakshmi 22, a dalit girl who got married at the age of 13 with her four children, now a business entrepreneur with basic literacy and an active member of campaign against early marriage. She is determined to give all four children (two girls and two boys) equal opportunity and committed not to give them in early marriage.
"I didn't know what marriage was," says Ramalakshmi recalling her struggles she went through with her husband and living in the in-laws house with sadness. Most times she was abused, beaten and made to starve for food and basic needs. Thus she ran away from the husbands family after a month to her mother’s place, but the mother would not allow her to stay fearing the social stigma and added burden she also deserted her.
Marriages like Ramalakshmi's are not uncommon. Relatives—even very young ones—are sometimes required to marry to keep property in the family or for other reasons. For young girls forced into early marriage, it's terrifying.
After going to her husband’s place again she made links with the self help group facilitated by RCPDS in their village. They supported Ramalakshmi with appropriate counselling and made her join the non formal education classes in the evening after convincing her husband. This was the turning point in her life. By then Ramalakshmi got conceived and gave birth to her eldest daughter.
Her association with SHG gradually built her economic capacity as well widened her knowledge base. Newly gained knowledge backed by her own experience of struggle and the solidarity she gained from the group made her to actively participate in the next level bodies of SHG such as Federation.
Today Ramalakshmi, mother of four children, proudly says she underwent by experience all deprivations of being a girl child, from a dalit family and getting married at an early age, would never allow her own children to marry at early age and will withstand any struggles that come her way with the solidarity from her peers in the Federation. She is now a great ambassador in the movement for early marriage abolition in the region.
Ramalakshmi rescued few girl children from village around her village – Valli (12 years), Karupayee (13 years) from the evil of early marriage, in spite of life threatening, all the way representing the issue to the police station and resorting to legal assistance through the federation. “I know it is an ongoing struggle, not all that easy, since it is embedded into our culture, caste system and economic deprivation. But I will continue to fight till my death and make a mark on the evil” says courageous Ramalakshmi. She is now an active advisor of the child clubs initiated by RCPDS wherein she speaks to the adolescent girls reflecting from her own experience and successes.