By Pradyut Hande:
October 11, 2012 was globally observed as the First International Day of the Girl Child. The emphasis was on charting a future course of action with regards to raising awareness and countering societal scourges such as Child Marriage and the gross violation of basic Human Rights against the Girl Child across the world. On the face of it, it is an imperative step towards achieving widespread emancipation of females, relegating “pocket-centric” progression to the backburner. With over 10 million Child Marriages taking place annually, the practice has emerged as a major social malaise across the African continent and multiple regions in Asia. There are more than 50 million married child couples around the world. This alarming figure is likely to double by the end of this decade.
Let me examine India’s case through a more discerning lens. India presently accounts for about 40% of the total number of Child Marriages, globally. This ranks us 13th on the ignoble world list of Child Marriages. However alarming and embarrassing these figures appear to be at first glance, the fact is that Child Marriages have reduced to a great extent in the past decade alone. Having said that, a lot still remains to be done if we are to eventually eradicate this “social evil“. Legal deterrents have gone some way in containing the problem by declaring Child Marriage illegal. Presently it is “punishable with a fine of Rs. 1,00,000 and two years in prison for anyone who performs, conducts or negligently fails to prevent a child marriage.” In order to enhance the “deterrence factor“, there is scope to make this punishment a lot more stringent with regards to the monetary penalty and prison sentence.
It is also critical to point out that a majority of these cases go unreported for myriad reasons ranging from ignorance and apathy to fear and communal humiliation. It is also disheartening to note that there exist many communities with a staunch belief in the practice of Child Marriage, especially in certain North Indian states such as Rajasthan and Haryana. Centuries of tradition coupled with a parochial and inflexible mindset and blatant disregard for Government stipulated regulations have ensured that Child Marriage is almost looked upon as a way of life in many parts of rural India. Consequently, these “illegal marriages” are conducted with impunity, backed by the community at large and nobody bothers bringing these to light. Those that do are often excommunicated and censured in public. Set in this backdrop, the role of NGOs working in this sector assumes even greater significance.
The curious case of India has shown that awareness and thought mobilisation, although critical, alone aren’t enough to usher sustained positive change. The practice of Child Marriage ought to be tackled through multi lateral efforts undertaken at both the State and National levels. Working closely at the grassroots levels and extending greater support to NGOs is important.
Thus far I’ve merely spoken about the problem per se. Let me elucidate why countering this pressing issue is of utmost significance. According to the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), “girls in some Indian states who were married before 18, were twice as likely to being beaten, slapped or threatened by their husbands, than girls who married later.” Additionally, Child Marriage doesn’t allow a girl to get an education and further enhances the gender divide. Furthermore, a majority of girls married as children give birth between the ages of 14 to 19. This makes them twice as likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth as women in their 20s. Thus, Child Marriage poses a physical, mental and emotional threat to the well being of any girl.
India is a rapidly emerging economic powerhouse today. However, let us not neglect our social progression in our quest for economic supremacy. This would require more proactive political intervention at the cost of angering vote banks. US President, Barack Obama once prudently remarked, “The best judge of whether or not a country is going to develop is how it treats its women. If it’s educating its girls, if women have equal rights, that country is going to move forward. But if Women are oppressed, abused, violated and illiterate; then they’re going to fall behind.” In a primarily male dominated pluralistic society, India has made reasonable headway in empowering its women and reducing gender inequality, in comparison to many of its Asian neighbours. However, a lot still remains to be done.
A major step in bridging the gap between urban and rural India is suitably countering Child Marriage. One must realise that there is no place for such practices in a progressive society. “It is a practice that robs millions of girls of their childhood, their rights and their dignity“, says South African Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Desmond Tutu.
Let us not continue to fall prey to such social evils that have hampered our collective societal development for long now. Let awareness and sensitisation to the issue backed by education drive action. Let us give the Girl Child the best possible opportunity to blossom into an educated, empowered, responsible and productive citizen of the country.
About the author: The Writer is a Business student with a degree from NMIMS, Mumbai. He is presently working as a Senior Executive with a leading Public Relations firm in Mumbai. Through his writing; he attempts to address myriad issues of both domestic and global consequence, ranging from Business and Economics to Geopolitics…from Sports to Arts and Culture. He has over 200 publications to his credit in some of the leading national dailies and weekly magazines across the country. He is also a keen debater, munner, quizzer, painter and amateur freestyle rapper. His other interests include Sports, Music, Reading, Travelling and Social Entrepreneurship. For his latest postings,Â follow his blogÂ . To read his other posts,Â click here.