The Curse of Child Marriage: Our Neglect and Ignorance

Child Marriage

Let me begin with a narrative of an Indian Woman at a TED talk:

“I am going to give you a story. It’s an Indian story about an Indian woman and her journey. Let me begin with my parents. I am a product of a visionary mother and father. Many years ago when I was born in the fifties, it didn’t belong to girls in India. They belonged to boys who would do business and inherit business from parents and girls would be dolled up to get married. My family was unique; we were four girls and fortunately no boys. My father defied his own grandfather almost to the point of disinheritance because he decided to educate all four of us. He sent us to one of the best schools in the city and gave us the best education. When we are born we don’t choose our parents, and when we go to schools we don’t choose our schools. We go to the school which our parents choose for us.

This is the foundation which I got. My father used to say that I am going to spread my four daughters in four corners of the world. I don’t know whether he really meant but it happened. I am the only one left in India; one is a British; another is an American and the third is a Canadian…

I am a product of opportunities; rare opportunities which the girls in the sixties didn’t get. I knew what I was getting was unique because all my other friends were getting dolled up to get married. Here I was with my tennis racquet, in school, doing all sorts of extra-curricular activities…

Now, let’s go to the 1970s. India had got a tough lady in the Police Service. She had left her job as a lecturer because of her urge to be outstanding. Initially she had her posting in New Delhi traffic. Her stubbornness and honesty made the police more vigilant and she did not tolerate taking bribes. She made headlines when she issued a ticket to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s car for violation of traffic rules. Such a thing had never happened in India before.

Certainly, many people disliked her and she was transferred. She was shifted from place to place many times throughout her career because of her loyalty to Indian Police Service. The transfers never cowed her down and everywhere she went she gave the corrupt officials a tough time.

Her vision was not to punish the criminals but to stop crime from happening. In one place, she transformed an entire locality full of thieves and robbers to decent people by helping them set up sewing machines and schools for children. The higher authority naturally did not like this. She seemed to be a hindrance to their selfish interests and corruption. To teach her a lesson, she was transferred to Tihar Jail (the largest jail in India) as the Inspector General. They felt that the hard life in dealing with jail prisoners would bring this troublesome lady in line and she won’t dare to challenge the rotting system again.

But she wasn’t easy to subdue. She accepted her transfer without resistance and took charge of the jail from the very first day. She went to the prisoners, personally talked to them to know their grievances. She introduced the Vipassana Meditation for all the ten thousand inmates as she believed that they can free their mind from criminal thoughts if they practiced meditation. Slowly and slowly change was observed and the prisoners began to like their new Inspector. They were aspired to live a decent life after getting out and not resort back to criminal activities. She sought transformation not through violence but through compassion; not through hate but through love.

Easier said than done the lady had to struggle through millions of obstacles but it was her sheer determination that brought about the change. She has founded two NGOs for the empowerment of women and the under-privileged. After retiring from Police Service she became an active member of the Anti-Corruption movement and presently is one of the most popular faces working against social injustice. She is none other than Kiran Bedi.

Now, had she like her other female friends got married young and settled for a family, we would have missed the most badass person in the history of Indian Police.

Also see: Making an Indian Slum Crime free: Story of Kiran Bedi

From our childhood we educated men are taught to respect women, to protect them and love them. That they represent the symbol of sacrifice and do not deserve to be ill-treated. Unfortunately along with it we also accept the prejudices that the real responsibility of a woman is to take care of the family; to raise kids; that they should not venture much into the professional world and leave it to men. When a boy is born in a middle class family, the parents think of his education and career. But when a girl child is born, the first concern of parents is how to arrange for her marriage. In a family of one girl and one boy, even if they are loved equally, the entire financial planning of parents varies for them: education for the boy and marriage for the girl.

Would there have been a Kiran Bedi if all parents had thought the same?

A survey by United Nations revealed some shocking numbers which shows that on an average 39,000 child marriages happen in India every day. This is about one child marriage every second. That means one out of two marriages in India are child marriage and our country tops the list with 40% of the world total happening here. Discussing this issue let us first see why this evil practice is prominent in India.

(Source: India Leading World’s Child Marriages:UN)

1)    A girl child is not seen as a source of income and so is considered a burden for the family. Giving away daughter as early as possible relieves the burden off the family’s shoulder.

2)    For the lower strata of the society, poverty is a major reason for child marriage which ensures that they have one less person to feed. Many times girls are sold as brides to other families.

3)    In some cases early marriage ensures security for the girl in places which has high rate of rape and molestation.

Child marriage is more prominent in the under-privileged society with poor economic background for the obvious reason. For the time being let us excluded the factors like poverty and security. Then aren’t we the economically stable section of the society same as them? Wouldn’t we have done the same with our sisters and daughters had we been in their position? Trying to get rid of the economic burden and marrying them off!!

All these cases of child marriage stems from the attitude of the society towards women. 99% of the people irrespective of their financial status are male chauvinist who thinks that the best thing that can happen to a woman is to get married to a good man. I must say that even women are no exception to this mentality. Sadly, there are very few women who display some real guts when it comes to fighting injustice. It appears that they have lost confidence in themselves and get supressed by the man-made rules of the society. The only thing we see is mass protests against rapes which are initiated by the media. That also dies down after a certain point of time. This is not the need of the hour. We require some real action at the foundation!

I do not believe that any major change can be brought about by protests and movements. We may succeed in curbing some thousands or even lakhs of such incidents, but the number is very very tiny. Force cannot convince the illiterates and they will find some way to fool the law and the lawmakers.

The Solution…

If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family “- African Proverb

The only way out of the mess is Education.

We have to realise that to bring change on a large scale mere protests are not enough. We saw what happened after the Nirbhaya incident. Within a couple of months the outcry was vanished. Rape cases have increased in Delhi and other places. God knows when the laws will be strengthened!!

And here is a small example of what education can achieve:

The average marriage age for girls rose from to 17 from 14.5 in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra state, just two years after girls were offered a life skills course. The course, run by the Institute for Health Management, Pachod, aims to improve girls’ confidence in influencing decisions about their own lives, including marriage.

If we want to uplift the position of women in the society, rapes and child marriages are not the only things that come on our way. Below is a nice pictorial depiction of crime against women which I came across on Facebook:

Crime_Against_Women_Iceberg

All the media hype about rape and our concerns regarding the izzat of women will seem to be peanut if we get the broader picture of what exactly is happening in our society.We are talking about tougher law and harsher punishments to prevent crime against women. But will that change our mind-set towards the fairer sex? Can be build a country safe for women by inducing fear within men? Or should we try to teach our kids to respect women and make it their in-built attitude. The lawmakers have tried the first approach but as can be seen it has never worked out.

The first step for change is believing in the capability of women. We have popular examples of Kiran Bedi, Indira Gandhi and Mother Teresa to support the statement. It’s time to realise that the real place for women is not at home but in the field with men; that raising kids and housekeeping is not their only responsibility and they can form an integral part of the professional world.

Everything starts from home and understanding the power of education. When in the 1950s Kiran Bedi’s father chose to go against the pre-defined norms of the dogmatic society, he believed in the power of education. Why do we lack such strong mental character in spite of enormous progress in science and technology?

Education is the simple solution not only to child marriage but to all crime against women. But probably it is one of the hardest to implement. It needs good government, capable leadership and above all a desire for change; a wish to make a better society for the people.

This is our time to act and put our actions into implementation of better educational policies. With 39,000 child marriages every day and so much social dogma, this process will be slow. We will face challenges and fail many times. To move this mountain, individual effort is not enough and we need collective strength. This is where Bell Bajao Campaign comes into picture. It is a movement to gather men and women around this country to fight crime against women. But how the strategies are planned will decide our course of action. The major focus should be on educating people and spreading social awareness and not just incite them to protest with slogans and strikes.

P.S: This is my official entry to Ring the Bell for IndiChange. For every 50 valid blog entries Breakthrough will put 1 lakh INR towards training Self-Help Groups (SHGs), Community Based Organisations (CBOs) and youth in schools in district of Gaya Bihar. There isn’t any winner or loser for this contest. I am making my small contribution…

Photo Courtesy: Flickr

Pritam Thakur

Pritam Thakur

A 4th year Undergraduate student at IIT Kanpur; movie freak; Internet-addict, Quoraphile and a bigger Blogging addict.

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