By Sonakshi Samtani:
13 year old Seema accompanies her mother, Rani, who works as a domestic help for many families. Seema used to live in one such home as a full time domestic help, till she attained puberty. Now her mother refrains from letting her stay at another place overnight. Neither Seema, nor her younger sister Choti, is enrolled in any school. Rani doesn’t feel the need to educate her daughters, and wants to get them married off as early as possible. She split from her husband and is a single mother. She started looking for suitable grooms for Seema about three months back. Seema is soon to marry Mukesh, who is 18.
Early marriage is one of the biggest socio-economic problems in our country today. India ranks number one in the number of child brides in the world, with figures touching as high as 10,000,000. A lot of times, such wedlocks are arranged without even informing the girl, let alone with her consent. Young girls are pulled out of school, separated from their peers and siblings, and married off to strangers, who are often, much older.
They are very likely to be victims of domestic violence and there are many repercussions on their health as well, due to early sexual activity and pregnancy. Moreover, due to lack of sex education and little or no access to contraceptives, these young girls have many pregnancies, some of which might even lead to miscarriages. Their sexual and reproductive health faces a major setback, and there are chances that their psychological health does too.
The broad picture, painted by several surveys conducted by the United Nations and other non-governmental organization, highlights three very important demographic factors pertaining to early marriages:
â— Girls from rural areas are twice as much likely to get married as children when compared to girls from urban areas.
â— Child brides are most likely to be from poor households.
â— Young married girls are generally less educated, either due to lack of resources and opportunity or due to curtailment of their education due to early marriage.
If we observe these factors carefully, it becomes obvious as to why early marriage as a problem is taking so long to be solved in India, despite efforts by the government and non-governmental organizations.
833.5 million people live in rural areas, as per Census 2011, which is more than two-third of the total population, while 377.1 million persons live in urban areas. In addition to it, more than 20% of the country’s population is below the poverty line, i.e. they don’t have enough resources to manage two square meals a day. Moreover, while the male literacy rate stands at 80.9 per cent – which is 5.6 per cent more than the previous census, the female literacy rate stands at 64.6 per cent – an increase of 10.9 per cent than 2001. (Source)
These statistics imply that the current situation of early marriages in India, especially that of women, shouldn’t come as a surprise. Due to lack of qualitative support from the government in the education sector, and corruption plaguing the Public Distribution System, many families come under the intersecting domain of the uneducated and the impoverished. Moreover, they tend to marry off their daughters early since they are considered to be a ‘liability’ and incapable of contributing to the family income. Early marriages of girls are also prevalent because a lot of value is placed upon the daughter being a ‘virgin’ before marriage; hence, many families tend to marry them off as soon as they hit puberty.
Breakthrough’s initiative to end early marriages in India is a multi-fold program. These images are a testimony to their action programs in Bihar and Jharkhand:
Education serves as a deterrent to early marriages. Families with access to cheap and quality education are more likely to send their kids to school; thus increasing their prospects of employability in the long run. This would also provide for more human resources in the country. Breakthrough’s program incorporates awareness about early marriage in the classroom teaching. Relevant texts help reaching out to young students about the repercussions of early marriage, in the form of interactive classroom sessions.
Thrashing the stereotypes of fragile girls, who stay indoors and take care of the household work, this initiative encourages young girls to take up sports seriously by engaging them in different competitions. This provides for a much needed incentive to attend school, in the form of extracurricular activities, and leads to consistent attendance.
In Bihar and Jharkhand, crowd sourcing volunteers and members, instead of having outsiders educate the masses about the repercussions of early marriage, has led to a massive awareness campaign. This image shows a ‘Self Help Group’ devising an action plan against early marriage. Such initiatives work at the grassroots and provide for the much needed efforts to curb this social menace.
They aim at bringing about a domestic revolution reaching out to women, girls and even the male members of the household, to change their perspective towards the girl child, her education and also marriage. Families are made aware of the fact that a girl child is no less competent than her male counterparts, they are not a liability to be gotten rid off as soon as they hit puberty. They should be educated so that they grow up to be competent, independent and responsible citizens and members of the society.