Children like toys. They like playing outside too. Perhaps, they also like getting married?
The first two statements are stereotypes, and problematic. The third statement, however, is just absurd. Marriage, and everything that this institution entails, is undoubtedly an important part of our family structure.
Child marriage is not about this family structure. It is about this structure imposing itself on individuals who perhaps have no understanding of why this structure is, or needs to be so.
Sita, like a lot of children, likes playing with toys and playing with her friends outside. In India, one cannot be sure, but she probably goes to a school too. She might like studying some particular subject; it is literature in my imagination. Reading about far away and beautiful places, whose politics of representation she might not know yet, but places she probably wishes to see for herself one day.
All children are artists, Picasso once said. He also said that staying that way once children have grown up is the real challenge. Child marriage perhaps provides us some perspective about how brutal that challenge really is.
Sita is sitting with her toy, with some literary musings in her mind. She is just distracting herself from her first menstrual bleeding. She is getting married in a few weeks. She really wants to know what both of those things mean. She is curious. Satisfying the imagination of a child is difficult. She is just told the procedures to follow during this sort of bleeding. She is just told that she will go live with a boy her age in a new house with strangers that she will have to call family now.
Imagine telling her about the penetrative sex that she might have to go through (and what follows), or about the uneventful chores that she will be doing for the rest of her life, or probably about the commonplace patriarchal character of family structures in our country which would make it practically impossible for her to disobey her new “family”.
Her ordinary sensibilities perhaps would not survive that. Thinking that this is all there is to life. It is not just a scholar we have lost, but quite possibly a life. A life which could have grown in unimaginably different and significant ways.
Sita, is about seven years old, probably the same age when I was when I was learning to ride a bike, or learning numbers in school.
What are we depriving her of then? A child, deserving of a childhood.
Child marriage is of massive concern in India with respect to the violation of basic child rights. It’s difficult to understand the gravity of emotional and physical consequence on children in imposing on them an institution such as marriage. Although there were legal provisions put in place as early as in 1929, stating the minimum age of marriage of girls as fifteen, and eighteen for boys and later the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 was put in place with stringent measures and the establishment of a cadre of officers called the ‘Child Marriage Prohibition Officers’, to stop child marriages, the reality is painful to witness.
According to the 2011 census, 19% of children in India are married before their 18th birthday. This comprise 65% of girls in India, across all states. The incidence of underage marriage of girls is three times more that of boys. The state of Rajasthan tops the list with 43% of girls in underage marriages, followed by Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
There is no mechanism to follow up on the cases where child marriages have been prevented. Girls and minor boys often lack the awareness regarding the nature of violation – both sexual and physical – to even report cases to the relevant authorities.
However, this menace cannot be stopped by legal provisions alone. There is the need for a more proactive engagement by our society.
- Stop Child MarriagesIf you are teacher, a fellow classmate, neighbour or just a concerned citizen, learn about the rights of children.If you come across any cases of children getting married, actively intervene to prevent the event from taking place. Generate awareness through social media, or mass mobilise people. It’s important that we as individuals see through the ill effects of child marriage.
- Join the campaign!
Before prevention, is the necessary first step of precaution. It is important that we understand the importance of childhood in a child’s life. We live in a democratic society, where even children should recognised as autonomous agents whose agency must not only be promoted for their dignity, but also as evolved and responsible future citizens.Take active interest, whether you are in a rural or urban setting, to engage with organisations working in this area, and help with capacity building and creating awareness.Help a girl child from dropping out of school.Child marriage is not just a social evil; it adversely affects the growth of the child and curbs his or her potential to become empowered citizens who are capable of performing in social and political life.
Remember, it starts with you!