Can”t Keep Her Any Longer: The Bane of Child Marriage

Posted on July 19, 2011 in Society

By Harsh Vardhan Bagaria:

“Satrah saal ki ho gayi hai..aur kitne din rakhte..
dekho..uske baapu kitne khush hain..
chinta na kar…ladka bura nahi hai…shehar mein tiles bithata hai”Kaveri’s mother.

This is what Kaveri’s mother had to say when I asked her why she was so insistent on marrying her only daughter this summer. I stood at their door in a house in the slums close to my college, the smell of the cow dung not so bothering all of a sudden. I could hear a faint noise, probably women fighting over water from the municipal tap close by.

When a woman marries a man and moves into his house, she leaves behind her entire world, her innocence to be with him. I would be lying if I said that I could even remotely imagine what a little girl would be feeling when she is expected to behave in a manner that is so alien to her. To live amongst strangers without the maturity to handle it, be criticized for the things that come to her so naturally but somehow bring “shame” to the husband or the family.

Over the medieval ages the concept of marriage changed. Before those times, marriage was given its due importance, the choices of the girl were considered, her opinion mattered. The Vedas state that the age of the boy for marriage must be 25 and that of the girl should be 18. Also marriage was to take place only after the phase of student life was over in both their lives.

During the medieval ages these practices changed slowly. Parents married their daughters off at the age of 12 to 13 because the grooms did not want their brides to be “scandalous” or in other words they wanted their brides to be virgins. The age limit soon got pushed down to 7. Slowly and steadily the marriage of a girl became an economic transaction. Parents often justified this by saying that if the girl grew up with the boy then the relationship between them would thrive and be based on their better understanding of each other. The parents often kept their daughters till they reached puberty and then them to the husbands house.

Dowry was a custom that initially was meant for the bride’s side to gain more respect in the society. While the concept of marriage got molded into economic transactions, the customs of dowry became solidified into rules in the society and plagued the lives of many. The amount of dowry demanded increased with the age of the bride.

It is often said that the growth of a civilization is gauged by the way women are treated in it. Judging by that, we are still quite uncivilized. The government has made attempts to control this. The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act protects all individuals (males below 21 years of age and females below 18 years of age) from forcible marriage and punishes those who break this law with rigorous imprisonment up to two years or a fine up to one lakh rupees or both. This may (to some) seem rigorous enough. But the question that poses itself here is: To what extent could this act prevent this hideous social practice?

Child marriages are rampant in the rural areas of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Rajasthan. The result of this is not only a poorly planned family, but a lot of serious health issues. A huge number of these girls give birth between the ages of 15 to 19, an age group in which the likelihood of the mother’s death from complications is twice as high as compared to women in the age group of 22 to 25. At ages as early as 12, they may get infected with diseases like TTP.

Lack of education in the society aggravates the problem of child marriage; also child marriage would result in poor health
and lack of education; poor health and lack of education results in overpopulation. These issues have gripped the nation so badly that today the effects and the causes have formed a vicious cycle. Things have become like a game of “pick-up sticks” in which these issues are so interrelated and difficult to adjust that if the correct measures are not taken, everything would collapse on us.

Kaveri wanted to study but she also didn’t want to go against her parents’ wishes. She was turning 18 the next week. All I could do was just stand there and look at her eyes get moist. I could not have felt more helpless.

“Woh theek hi hai..uska naam Rahul hai..
tiles ka kaam karta hai..thoda kala hai..par chalega..
(her voice turned a little reassuring)
tu chinta mat kar..”Kaveri on the phone a few months later.