Every little girl from a tender age fantasizes about her marriage. She has her own ideas, notions and dreams about her new home, her partner, what her relationship will be like, her children and so on. For many these dreams come true. Some girls really do grow up; find the love of their lives and live happily ever after. But for a few of these unfortunate girls, life plays a cruel twist. They do get married, but not in the manner they envisioned. They are forced to marry even before they hit puberty often to men as old as their fathers. This wide spread practice of child marriage is the most detrimental to our society and needs to be dealt with a firm hand.
In a country where the girl child is considered a liability, a large number of people from poor socio-economic backgrounds prefer to get their daughters married at a young age. Thus becoming free of their responsibilities and ‘passing on the burden to their husbands’. These obsolete and out dated ideals used to form the basis if our society. Girls as young as 8-9 years of age who were neither physically nor mentally ready to enter a lifelong commitment were married off to men who would either be children themselves or much older than their brides. The social, physical as well as mental consequences of this act are horrifying and have shown the image of India in poor light.
It is common for girls who have been married off at such a young age to become pregnant well before their bodies have fully developed. This is bad news for both the mother as well as new born child. Many studies suggest that when girls become pregnant before puberty it can cause various defects in the child and can also lead to untimely death of the mother.
In many parts of the country due to illiteracy and unemployment, the husbands have been known to torture their child brides. Raising hands, beating girls, abusive language and in many cases marital rape have become common features in the case of child marriage. With grooms families supporting this kind of shocking behaviour, the child is left with no option but to endure this pain for the rest of her life.
Child marriage is defined by the union of two individuals who have not yet attained legal age as prescribed by law. In India women are considered fit to marry only after they have attained the age of 18, while boys can marry only after they are 21 years of age. In recent times, the Government has taken a proactive approach to curb Child marriage in India. With the introduction of Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 strict action has been taken against those indulging in child marriage. Those found guilty are charged with hefty fines and can be imprisoned as well. The International Centre for Research on Women- UNICEF publications have estimated India’s child marriage rate to be 47% in 1998, while United Nations reports it to be 30% in 2005. By 2009 the child marriage rate has reach 7% all over India and gives some hope for the future.
Initiatives such as ‘Apni Beti Apna Dhan’ encourage families to delay marriages by providing incentives. Under this scheme, a government paid bond is payable to the daughters parents of Rupees 25000 after the child’s 18th birthday, if she is unmarried. These programs have been implemented with some success in state such as Haryana, where child marriages are prevalent.
India is a mystical land of many traditions, cultures and values. However, some of our practices are outdated and regressive. We need to abolish practices such as child marriage and ensure that the country progresses not just economically but socially as well. While marriage is a beautiful union between two souls, it is important to understand that child marriage only leads to loss of innocence and broken dreams.