Talk About Education And Growth, Not Marriage And Kids

by | Feb 13, 2018

While working with Ekjut in Jharkhand, my documentation work takes me to different villages. I saw several young girls holding kids, and assumed them to be their elder sisters but later found that they were the young mothers, who got married at an even younger age.

What would be the circumstances under which parents would send their young daughters with a stranger? What factors would play a key role in promoting this practice?

This post is about my learning on child marriage in India.

The practice has been rooted in the social traditions since a long time. Girls in forced marriages have little or no control over their decision to become pregnant. Adolescent birth rate increases and the viscous circle of poverty continues. Talking about the villages I have visited here, married people in the age group of 10-18, use contraception lesser than any other age group. The girls usually drop out of school and hence, have no access to sex education, further increasing their vulnerability towards dealing with pregnancy and other consequences. In most cases here, girls and women are blamed for everything which needs to be stopped. Instead, we should start addressing the situations that make Marriage and Motherhood unavoidable for them.

The issue has much deeper consequences. Child marriage jeopardizes girls’ rights such as right to education, health, growth and development. The Patriarchy surrounding them, excludes them from decision making, even on the choice of spouse. Sometimes, girls as young as 5 or 6 are married. It marks a violent and abrupt initiation of their sexual relationship. The men are often much older than them.

Families of these brides have a big role to play as they give them away for economic or social gain. Parents think they are upholding tradition, gaining social approval, safeguarding their daughter’s chastity and minimizing the risk of premarital/extramarital pregnancy. If they fail to marry their daughters off, families can be excluded from the community or worse, their daughters and/or other family members may get physically assaulted. Also, there are strong economic incentives to do this. The cost of a wedding tends to be lower when a girl is younger. She leaves her parent’s home and stops using family’s resources. Grooms and their families usually demand a smaller amount of dowry. On the contrary, in cultures where grooms pay for brides, young girls command a higher price than the elder ones.

My fellowship experience exposed me to a large number of negative health consequences for the child brides and their children. They face a higher rate of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. It increases the likelihood of giving birth at a younger age and that of continued childbearing throughout the reproductive cycle.

Some of my colleagues who work with young brides on Gender Based Violence, tell about the relationship between husband and wife, in case of child marriages. Because of lesser level of education and life experience, girls are supposed to be in a subordinate role, which increases the risk of verbal or physical abuse by the husband, or his family. Child brides are more likely to be victims of domestic violence, eventually unable to participate in politics, community affairs and getting isolated in the society.

To tackle adolescent pregnancies, we must focus on the underlying causes including gender inequality, poverty, sexual violence, social pressure and stereotypes about females. As long as we will tolerate child marriage, it will remain an everyday occurrence in our country. Behavior change communication can help if channelized through Government and Non-Government organisations, while addressing the issues to parents, young women, Panchayats, authoritative people and decision makers of a village.

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