This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Veda Nadendla. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

How An Indian Tradition Is Destroying The Lives Of Young Girls In The Name Of Marriage

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By Veda Nadendla:

I was married at 12, I didn’t know much back then. A lot of my time was spent doing what my mother and father said I should, and after my marriage, what my husband expected of me. It was so scary. For a whole year after my marriage, I was always in pain, falling sick all the time. But that was a different time, and now you girls have seen more world than us. You will make better choices.” Little did my grandmother know that what she suffered nearly 65 years ago is the dogged fate of nearly one third of the young girls in our country even today.

Even now, at the age of 21, I worry at the thought of marriage; there is career and success waiting for me, and I am too young. But apparently, young is never too young in India. Today, more than half the women in India are married before the legal age of 18 years. These girls are just children, innocent and unaware of what their life holds for them; that they might be a bargain their parents are willing to make, to protect the family’s honour and for patriarchy’s sake. We live in a country which wages war at men who brutalize and vandalize a woman’s honour, but is it not criminal to let your little girl’s innocence be destroyed at the hands of an unknown, in the name of marriage? Where is the sanctity in that?

earlymarriages

Early marriage affects both boys as well as girls in India, but the incidences of young girls marrying older boys or men are far more abundant. Early marriages occur in direct proportion with the economic health of a family as well as its size. Justifying their decision to marry off their little girls, parents often say that they can avoid a hefty dowry by marrying off the girl young, when in reality, giving or receiving dowry is considered a crime under Dowry Prohibition Act 1981. They say that they are protecting the little girl from promiscuity and unwanted male attention, ensuring social and economic safety for her. What about personal choice? What about her basic right to life, her right to good health, education and nutrition? What about her parents’ fundamental duty to protect her from violence, exploitation and abuse? Early marriage is a crime inflicted on childhood. A crime that parents just don’t realize they are committing.

Sitting outside the hutment, a woman with dusky skin, a slender stature, a white-blue saree with yellow-red flowers on it, maang mein sindoor and galey mein mangalsutra – Kamala Devi tells us about her marriage. “He used to drink a lot and abuse me. My in-laws used to make me work a lot, sometimes more than I could take. My state was so bad that I felt I couldn’t survive anymore.” Kamala’s father says that her in-laws started demanding dowry, and when he couldn’t pay up, they used to beat her and abuse her. “I could not take it anymore. So I brought my daughter back home. I will take care of her, no matter how much I earn. I will bring her up, I told myself.”

Kamala may have been lucky because she escaped a long life of suffering and abuse but there are still millions of little girls in the rural pockets of our country, just being born to be married off before they can even complete their education. From the moment she is born, she becomes a burden. I never understood the concept. If boys are heirs, a means of income and support for the family, girls are the same. India is transforming into a nation that seeks justice for women, equality in the workplace and equal status in the household; we are rapidly pushing our way into independence and success. Unfortunately, there is a vast disparity between the sections of society who actually see the change and participate in it and the section completely oblivious to the possibility of change. We forget that there are those girls who never make it to school, let alone the workplace, the girls whose parents are still unaware of the world of potential hidden in a daughter, the parents who do not understand the future they have planned for their girls. It is time they are told. Not just a time for repair, but a time for prevention.

Early marriage encourages an early initiation into sexual activity when a girl’s body and mind are still developing and unprepared. This girl is still coming to terms with the changes her body is undergoing; she is not made aware of sexual health and reproductive health measures, nor is her body ready for pregnancy. Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among girls in the age group of 15-19 years. Young girls who marry later and have babies after their adolescence have healthier pregnancies and healthier bodies. Early marriage, impacts the child’s psychological well-being, education, physical health as well as the well-being of her offspring. It increases the risk of cervical cancer, sexually transmitted diseases, obstetric fistulas, malaria, maternal mortality and depression. All parents say they want the best for their children, but why then is this noble intent diverted into a catastrophic act that is early marriage?

Marriage is a journey that one chooses to embark upon with a partner of their choice. If I have this right as a citizen, then why are these million other citizens depraved of the choice that will shape and affect the rest of their lives? Right after the wedding the girl is taken to her husband’s home which is often in another town or village, where she is expected to fulfil the role of a wife, domestic worker and soon a mother. The husbands usually are much older than the young bride and have less in common with them; the purpose of the bride then becomes to prove her fertility. This little girl in her dire need for survival pushes herself to reproduce, and to fulfil the expectations of her husband and her in-laws. Who is her confidante? When does she get to be pampered and treated with respect? Is her respect earned by the measure of her fertility? In the process, she loses her childhood, the opportunity to play and learn, make friends and mistakes, she skips a whole developmental milestone!

Listening to his daughter, Jagdish Prasad tears up. “My relative was about to marry his 10-year-old girl. I stopped him and told him to let the little child study, to let her study for as much as she wanted and to not spend money on her wedding. Spend that money on her education, I told him. I will not let you do to your daughter what I did to mine. If I see anyone even trying, I will tell them to look at what happened to me and my daughter and learn from our mistakes.”

Jagdish Prasad learnt from his mistakes, but how many more Jagdish Prasads will it take for our country to wake up to the grave encroachment that is early marriage? It is a blatant infringement on the rights and life of a child, robbing them of their potential. It is the result of a dominant regime of patriarchy, gender discrimination and an unequal distribution of wealth and power in a post modern world. It is also the result of a lax administration, which turns a blind eye toward a heinous practice that is robbing the country of its development and progress. Children are the future of our nation we say, why then have we marginalized half our female population from being included in that future?

I don’t expect that parents will stop marrying their underage daughters overnight. It takes one person at a time, one household at a time. We must have the audacity to say stop, to educate parents about the importance of educating their daughters, of the prospects of a career and a bright future for her. You and I cannot stand by and watch another daughter suffer Kamala’s fate. India for every daughter and every daughter for a brighter future. In Kamala’s own words, “There is no question of marriage right now. She will be married one day, when she is independent and capable, when she has the maturity to understand the world, when she is ready to fulfil all her responsibilities and stands on her own two feet. Then my daughter will choose to get married.” If you are seeing this injustice happen around you, you have it in you to stop it.

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  1. Babar

    Yet another article showing how bigoted and two-faced feminism really is. While feminists claim to fight for the rights of both sexes, their articles do not shed light on the horrendous plight of boys who are forced into early marriages, who face abuse, violence, hardships, have to give up on their education and dreams, and are thrust with the responsibility of another human being when they are not even at an age when they can’t even support themselves. The crimes against male children often outweigh those against females, yet we remain oblivious to the fact. Also, young girls are not married due to dowry concerns, a lie that the article wants us to believe. They are married off because the parents of those girls cannot afford to feed their girls. Also, feminists continue ranting about dowry being a crime without ever mentioning that 75% of dowry cases are false, where men’s lives, careers, families, reputation, and future is destroyed by cunning and greedy women.

    1. Prajwal

      Babar, it is unfortunate that people like you get their backs up every time women’s rights are mentioned and start ranting about how men’s rights are infringed too. I don’t deny that men have issues too, however, when someone chooses to write an article about a topic, they write an issue about that topic and not about everything else.

      This is an article about female child marriages and that is what it will talk about. If you are interested in writing about men’s issues, go ahead, write an article. Trolling is not the way to get your point across.

      That being said, I have a few issues with your comment above:

      1. I hope you do realize that most of the child marriages are between a young girl and an older man? There might be some where the groom is also a child – I do not deny that, however, child marriages seem to happen predominantly between a young girl and an older man.

      2. Feminism – especially in this article – in asking for more rights for women is not saying that men are evil. Please read the article before you spout vitriol all over it and say it is two faced. (If you think that by letting women have the equal rights with men, you as a man lose something.. All I can say is I find myself ashamed to be the same gender as you.)

      3. Feminism has never claimed to fight for the rights of both the sexes. Feminism means “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes” – i.e. the fight to get women the same rights as men. (Just because one group of men are discriminated against, doesn’t mean you have to discriminate against all women the same way!)

      4. Most young girls are married off due to dowry concerns. Statistics collected by dozens of organizations say that. Heck, people who have had their young daughters married off say that. What better source could you have than the words of the parents who performed the marriage? Go look up the stats on whatever you claim to be wrong before you say they are wrong.

      5. Even if dowry wasn’t the main reason and feeding multiple children was the culprit – no reason is good enough to marry off a child to a stranger. More importantly, if there are more mouths to feed than can be fed, and the parents want to marry off a child to save money, who do you think they would marry off? The daughter or the son?

      6. I challenge you to show me the statistics to back your figures of ‘75% of dowry cases are false, where men’s lives, careers, families, reputation, and future is destroyed by cunning and greedy women.’ “My uncle said so…”, “My friend said so…”, “I believe it is case…” are not valid reasons. Show me one study – just one that is uses proper statistical methods and says 75% of dowry cases are false. Heck show me one study that says that the majority of dowry cases are false and brought around by ‘cunning and greedy women’ – as you oh-so-delicately put it!

    2. Kartik

      Babar
      A few things
      1) The crimes against male children often outweigh those against females, please mention your source.
      2) 75% of dowry cases are false, again what is your source?

      You go and comment on every post about feminism and how the author ignores a lot of so called facts.
      3) Yes a few dowry cases are false, but even you can not deny that so many women have been burnt alive for that dowry, but by your logic highlighting that is bigotry.

      4) Whether child marriages are done for escaping dowry or not bearing the costs of feeding the girl child, it is wrong and again highlighting the plight of girls does not mean any body is ignoring the injustices done to boys. The plight of girls is highlighted more because it is the girl who is subjected to torture and sexual abuse. It is the girl who has to bear the pain of pregnancy at a time her body is physically incapable of at such ages. That is the reason why we have a legal marriage age.

      5) Do read about the pioneer works of people like Margret Sanger and others like her and you will then realize that feminism was always about getting women the same rights that men enjoy and are usually denied to women.

      6) Also please realize that when one talks about the injustices done to one group, it isn’t implied that they are ignoring the other group. I will give a ridiculous analogy over here which may not be connected to the issue being discussed in the article but will explain what I am trying to say. When one says that Dada is a good batsman, does not mean they are ignoring Sachin, it is just that they are at the moment talking about Dada. Just like that over here they are talking about women.

    3. Babar

      Kartik/Prajwal

      Why don’t you talk about the biases that men face on a daily basis, about how courts give men stricter sentences for the same crimes that women commit, about how juries give verdicts against men in domestic disputes, about misandry in the media, about sexism against men, about how men are locked up in false cases of rape, dowry, and domestic abuse, about how their oppressors do not face punishment over false accusations, among a host of other things.

      Fabricated allegations of rape, dowry, and domestic violence never seem to be a subject of discussion among people. What’s worse is that there is no punishment for women who falsely accuse innocent men of crimes they have not committed. The draconian Indian laws have led to an increase in the suicide rate among men, where a woman simply has to accuse a man of abusing her, physically or sexually, with little evidence, if any, and land him behind bars.

      Also, it is a fact that men are also victims of rape and face domestic violence at the hands of women. A woman’s portrayal as the ‘abla nari’ has not helped, for women’s cruelty can be seen in the violence they perpetrate on their domestic help and daughters-in-law, and of course, their husbands.

      Men were the ones who were victims of slavery and racism, and those being killed in war. Even today, men protect the borders of our country so that we can sleep in peace, and I believe that ‘we’ includes women. When the Titanic was sinking, it was men who said ” women and children first,” knowing they will be dead and could have chosen to leave.

      Men work in the army, men work as construction workers, men work as coal miners, and throughout history men have worked dangerous jobs to feed and support women, often losing their limbs and their lives. On buses, airports, and other public places, when one seat is available, it is the woman who is seated by her husband/boyfriend/brother. It is men who leave their seats for women. Have you ever seen a woman leave her seat for a man? (I guess equality is only applicable when it works in favour of women). Also, women must feel really oppressed by the fact that seats are reserved for them everywhere, from the political arena to the corporate world.

      Horrifying incidents taken place with men daily, which no one talks about. Let me take the Nigerian case, for example. On Feb 25, 2014, 59 Nigerian school boys were killed by Boko Haram; some were shot, others had their throats slit, while the remaining were burnt alive, but there was so little international coverage it was almost as though the incident did not take place. Three months later, when Nigerian girls were kidnapped, the Obama administration, media, and feminists suddenly woke up, and there was an uproar and campaigns and what not. Violence against boys is the same as violence against girls, but those 59 innocent boys were not a subject of discussion because they were boys. Now imagine if the same has happened to 59 Nigerian girls – would we have been so silent?

      This is the same story with countless incidents in India and abroad.

    4. Kartik

      No body is denying the fact that there are many cases of injustices against men, and yes some laws meant for protecting women are being misused to harass and blackmail.
      I never denied it, what I was trying to say was, 1) mention your sources of the figures you quote. 2) Why bring those up in an article that has nothing to do with the facts you mention?

      This article wasn’t bashing men, calling them evil. It was only highlighting the injustices faced by girls who are married off at an early age. No where did it say that men are doing that to girls. It only talks about what little girls have to face and even you can not deny that crime against women is much higher than crime against men.

      Your points however valid they may be do not belong in this article.
      What you have to say does make sense, so write an article about those. This article talks about a different issue altogether, respect it, agree with it or disagree, don’t go on changing the issue to how men are ill treated in an article talking about how women are ill treated.

      You spoke about seats being reserved for women in the buses and metros, here is an idea, can you surely say that they will not be groped or molested in someway or the other if they are standing in the crowd and then will here the excuse that madam dhakka laga tha, ghalti se haath lag gaya?
      The truth is you can not.

    5. SS

      Prajwal/Kartik,

      Its Babar’s lifelong mission to troll this site. He moves from article to article and posts the exact same sentiments everywhere. Reasoning with him would not yield anything. Calling him close-minded is very generous. He has a mission in life and that is to deliberately put fingers in his ears and go nanananana….

  2. MANU SINGH

    Heart wrenching … just look at her innocent face in dis pic she don’t even know what’s going on… how can she know ?? I thought these things would have perished with time, but ur article gives an insight view of the society. Another Powerful article by u. (y)

  3. Source

    source You might surely visit your commitment inside the perform you write. The actual field desires of far more excited writers just like you that are not fearful to state the direction they believe. Continuously chase your center.

  4. Santoshkumar Pandey

    It is very necessary that this issue be discussed and corrective action be taken. And its good seeing that you have taken the first few steps ahead.
    I would also like to mention that this patriarchal attitude is not just prevalent in rural areas or low income society. Its is also to be found in urban areas and higher income societies.
    Yes, maybe child marriages are not that prevalent but the outlook of raising a girl child just to marry her off is still a very common line of thought amongst the parents.
    I also think that just discussing about the issue amongst us is not enough. What we also need to do is to take it too the people and try to change the outlook. As you rightly said “One house at a time and one family at a time..”
    And what we actually need to do is discuss ways to get this done.
    Thank You!

  5. Chandra

    पता नहीं इस देश में जिस crime के लिए पुरुषों को कड़ी से कड़ी सजा देने का प्रावधान है वहीँ महिलाओं के लिए ऐसा कोई प्रावधान है या नहीं. शादी का झूठा झांसा देकर शारीरिक सम्बन्ध बनाने पर एक लड़के पर rape का आरोप लगाकर उसे सजा दी जाती है, वहीँ उसी काम के लिए लड़की को सजा देने का कोई प्रावधान नहीं है. ऐसा माना जाता है कि लड़कियाँ ये काम नहीं करती हैं, जबकि वास्तविकता ये है कि लड़कियाँ ही ये सबसे ज्यादा करती हैं. अगर ऐसे किसी case में लड़कियों को सजा देने का प्रावधान है तो कृपया मुझे बताएँ…

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