By Trishla Singh:
He was all of 18 when his mother arranged his marriage. According to her, she found a reasonable match, and that came with an unreasonable dowry. I am talking about the eldest son of my household help. Let’s call him Arun. A mere teenager, Arun had dreamt of a college education and a fulfilling job. But that did not coincide with his mother’s dream of building a kaccha house and the dowry money seemed imperative to achieve the goal. His parents were married when they were children and his father had to quit school when he was just fifteen in order to support his family. Fearing that he would have to lead a similar life, Arun had decided to work and pay for a college education. However, his marriage changed his future forever. The responsibility of his wife and the ever rising expenditure weighed heavy on him. And hence, his dream of going to college and procuring a real job could not be accomplished.
156 million men who are alive today were married when they were children. Arun is one of them.
Remember the school lessons where they taught us about social evils like child marriage? Remember the show, Balika Vadhu, and all the struggles of the child bride portrayed in it? I do. But I don’t quite remember it having any effect on me; the reality of child marriage simply never seemed tangible. For me, problems like my math homework were more real than the possibility of child marriage. I always thought it was something that happened in distant lands or distant times. And then, the story of Arun completely changed my view on the issue.
Exploitation Sees no Gender
Our standard approach to child marriages leaves out the plight of young men like Arun. Even the surveys and studies focus on its impact on young girls and fail to take the boys into account. We fail to realise that patriarchy is a double-edged sword. On one hand it binds girls to a life of cooking meals and bearing children, while on the other hand, it binds boys, as young as eight or nine, to a life full of unrealistic responsibilities and a dreamless future. The stress of earning money and supporting a family can prove to be potent for a grown man. Imagine the pain, and the psychological pressure a young boy would feel, if he was to support a family. Moreover, all of us hope that we get a good education, and that it will enable us to better our future.
Arun, who had dreamt of a very different life, lives in a shanty today and struggles to support his wife and four children.
Beginning From the Basics
Child marriage also has an impact on school dropout rates. According to a survey conducted by Jharkhand State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (JSCPCR), more than 50% students studying in Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas (KGBV) get married while they are still in school. Out of those, 20% do not return. In spite of these glaring statistics, various educational schemes don’t realise the harmful impacts of child marriages to the fullest extent. Schemes like SSA and Mid Day Meal stress more on infrastructure related issues like class room constructions, clean drinking water, maintenance grant and nutrition; in addition to these, they can, and should focus on the fact that child marriages and school dropout rates are also related and need to be curbed. If the survey by JSCPCR reveals such alarming figures, shouldn’t teachers and school authorities take up the responsibility of talking to parents, guardians and other stake holders? Shouldn’t government schemes and schools adopt a method of engaging the civil society and discussing the detrimental impact that this tradition has on young minds and bodies of both the bride and the groom?
Many young boys like Arun have had to leave their dreams of higher education in order to support their families; many have had to drop out of schools, thereby, jeopardizing their future. This social pressure to marry at an early age leads to the vicious cycle of child labour, poverty, high rates of teenage pregnancy, infant mortality, malnutrition, and emotional and socio-economic distress. While there are shocking statistics on how child marriage is rampant, there are no statistics on how many people remained silent when these things were going on around them. When someone intervenes and stops a child marriage, they are not only speaking up for the law of the land, but also safeguarding the interests of vulnerable sections of the society. They are saving young boys and girls from a life of social, physiological, biological and economic hardships.
If given a chance, let us make sure that we speak up for those like Arun when we come to know about them.