Child Marriages: Stigma for a civilized society

In most of the countries, marriage before 18 years is strictly prohibited as it violates the natural rights of the children. It is a malpractice, as it denies the children from attaining health, education and other opportunities exploring a dire consequence in their life. It exposes girls to violence throughout their lives and traps them in a cycle of poverty. Child marriages are actually a global problem that cuts across countries, culture & civilization, religions and ethnicities. The causes of child marriages are manifold. A sense of insecurity, poverty and marrying expenses such as dowry, food insecurity, traditional and religious practices, and joblessness are some well-known reasons for child marriages. Although the practice of child marriage affects both boys and girls; statistics reveals that in majority cases usually girls are forced into child marriage than boys. Some parents think that girls’ education is wastage while boys’ education is an investment and such fogey thinking accelerates discriminatory attitudes causing negative impacts on the lives of girls. Conservative outlook of the rural people and religious mystification usually contribute to worsening the situation. Misconception still prevails in the present age of digitalisation as many living in rural areas think that if their daughter gets older, it will be difficult to marry them. Still it is found that many parents are found to look for the younger brides for their sons. For some poor families, marrying off a young daughter means one less burden. Some religious sects encourage girls as young as ten years to marry much older men for spiritual guidance, while some families, to avoid shame, force girls to marry their boy-friends. Child marriages directly hinder the achievement of at least six of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), 2030. Its Goal-5 is concerned with “Gender Equality”, which is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. Target 5.3 of the SDG aims to eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early or forced marriages by 2030.UNICEF report reveals that more than 650 million women and above 150 million men alive today in the world have already suffered the consequences of child marriage. The total marriages in childhood are nearly 12 million a year and there has been decrease of 25 million of child marriages in last decade. Obviously, globally the rate of child marriages is slowly declining, but its progress is not happening fast enough. If current trend on child marriages continue, 150 million more girls will be married in childhood by 2030 with devasting consequences for the whole world. Globally around 21% of young women were married before attaining age of 18years. South Asia has the highest rate of child marriages in the world; as nearly 45% of all women aged 20-24 years has been reported being married before the age of 18 years. Almost one in five (17%) women are married before the age of 15 years. Bangaladesh has the highest rate of child marriages in Asia and the fourth highest in the world. India has the highest absolute number of child brides in the world, which account for nearly one-third of global total. In India, there are 223 million brides, who have been married in childhood i.e. before attaining 18 years. In other words, approximately one in every four young women were married or in a union before their 18th birthday.
Child marriage explores a serious threat making girls more vulnerable. Early child birth has the large impact on health & nutrition of young mothers and their children. There is risk for teen-age pregnancy. Girls under the age of 15 years are not physically developed to sustain a healthy pregnancy. They are five times more likely to die during delivery than mothers aged 20-24 years. Risks of health related difficulties such as low birth weight, pre-mature labor, mal-nutrition, anemia and pre-eclampsia are connected to biological age. Child marriages contribute to higher total fertility and population growth; as a girl marrying at 13 years will have 26% more children and marrying at 17 years will have 17% more children over her lifetime than if married at 18 years or more. They also endure more violence in the families than other natural married women. Domestic violence along with sexual harassment, acid attacks, and many more inequalities is also found distressing them. Child marriage is the major factor of out of school and drop out girls. It reduces education prospectus of girls, and conversely better education and employment opportunities for girls may reduce the likelihood of marrying early. The malady of child marriage is still unabated, even though we see a noticeable empowerment of girls and women over the years. It is unfortunate that despite being fully aware of itsill-effects, the child marriages have not been tackled satisfactorily. A bitter and distasteful medicine is often prescribed to cure a disease. Child marriage is an act of spoiling a child life and is equivalent to offence of attempt to end one’s life; thus competing for same provision of punishment. Although, under The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006, there is provision of rigorous imprisonment of 2 years and fine of one lakh rupees for person marrying a child, the guardian and whoever performs child marriage. But it is not a hidden fact that the law has been put under the carpet by the authority. With the advent of education and vigilance, there is strong demand from women to raise the upper age limit of marriages, which is 18 years for female and 21 years for male. Central as well as State Governments have launched several schemes like Balika Samriddhi Yojana, Mukhyamantri Kanya Utthan Yojana, MaziKanya Bhagyashree Yojanaetc. For unmarried girls. Interventions to promote education including cash transfers, scholarship, free school uniforms, reductions in school fees, teacher training & life skill curricula are among most likely to reduce child marriages, or at least increase the age of first marriage. In order to ensure women empowerment, child marriage must be root out. In India, the central government should take up this issue on priority basis and strictly enact effective law on the pattern of Bihar Government. Globally, a time-bound action plan from national to grass-root level needs to be developed in all the countries with the co-operation of civil society, UN agencies and girls themselves to achieve the SDG goals for nullifyingthis evil forever.
(The author is a technocrat & academician. Views are his own)
prabhatkishore65@gmail.com

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