Early Marriage and Women in South Asia

Posted on January 19, 2010 in Society

Pandipperuma Madushani:

Marriage is not just a word. It connects two souls to begin a new generation. It takes a very special place in our society as a union or legal connection of two individual souls. However, generally the social view focuses on the future that continues through generations.

In South Asia, early marriages, that is marriage below the age of 18 years is a widespread social evil, especially in rural areas. For a girl, this is before she is mentally, physically and psychologically ready to handle the responsibility of marriage and child bearing. It is something that has been passed down over generations, with social practices and is claimed to be connected with religion and culture of those who practice child marriages.

The major cause of early marriage is poverty that leads to many social twigs. Mainly in South Asia the economic tribulations in families lead to early marriages. Lack of economic opportunities for girls in rural areas forces them to marry at an early age. For example, dowry is a common concept in Bangladesh. When a girl marries, she has to give money to the groom as is the thought that she would be thriving on the groom’s resources for the rest of her life. As Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in South Asia, most people who in rural areas, force their daughters to marry at an early age as a solution to economic problems. Sometimes, such situations persist until the girls become isolated with different sexual diseases, mental and physical weaknesses.

In Rajasthan in India, there is the age old tradition of early marriage; marriage of a young girl or child is considered as a good thing as it is believed that marriage would give the girl access to property and wealth of the groom in return for the dowry that is given to the groom. Marriages of children as young as seven to eight year old take place, as it is believed to be a method of preserving sexual purity.

In Sri Lanka the number of early marriages is much less than other countries in South Asia. The reason behind this may be the education system in the country. Sri Lanka has much higher educational level than other countries in South Asia; the youth literacy rate being as high as 97%.

Worldwide more than 51 million girls who are in age group of 15-19 years are married and bear children besides taking care of household works. In South Asia this rate of those who have married before the age of 18 years is about 48%. In Bangladesh, Pakistan and Bhutan 4% of the marriages take place at the age of 14 years. In Maldives it is about 12% and in Nepal 40%. In Sri Lanka it is much less; about 0.2%.

To talk about the consequences of early marriage; in most of the societies where early marriage happen sexual harassment is most rampant. This situation often ends with different sexually transmitted diseases. Moreover, if the girl had to marry while she was still studying; education is denied to her and this further propels this cycle forward, as with ignorance comes blind acceptance of all evils.

As a social issue; early marriage goes against Human Rights standards. Young girls’ rights are severely violated and the quality as well as standard of individual life deteriorates.

The writer is a Bangladesh based correspondent at Youth Ki Awaaz