India surely is a land of colours and cultures, but on the other side, is a land that harbours many social evils. Among the unfortunate list of unwanted practices and rituals, there lies the alarming evil of child marriage. It is a practice that would shame any proud Indian, yet exists on such a scale that one of every three child brides across the world is an Indian. As per 2019, the country had over 223 million child brides, out of which over 102 million got married even before they could turn 15. Out of every four brides, one is below 18 in India. Imagine the horror of a little forced to get married and to raise a family from such a young age. The five states majorly contributing to this menace are Uttar Pradesh, being the highest with over 36 million child brides, followed by Bihar, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. (Source)
Not A Love Story
A 14-year-old child named Pooja is playing in her ‘gher’ (compound outside home) as she is called inside. There are some guests sitting, along with a boy of similar age. She is made to change her soiled clothes quickly and handed over a tray full of snacks. A few moments later, she is serving snacks to the guests, as the elders fix Pooja’s wedding with this boy, Ajay.
The day arrives and Pooja enters this not-so-sacred bond with Ajay, unaware of what’s next. She is sent to her new home with a lot of ‘gifts’ from her family, to start a new and happy life. Few months down the line, she gets to know she is expecting and another few months later, she is surrounded by ‘Dai Ma’ (midwife) and elder women of the area to help her deliver the child. Alas, Pooja and her pre-mature child die during birth, all of this before she turned 15.
The instance above is fictional, but reflects the bitter reality and outcome of numerous child marriages. Here are few of the countless ill-effects of such a union:
- Isolation with limited or no freedom
- No sense of rights and empowerment
- Lack of care and health facilities
- End of education
- Early pregnancy
- Domestic violence
- More likely to live in poverty
- Contracting Sexually transmitted diseases
- No understanding of family planning
- Mental agony
- Sexually underdeveloped to support such relation
A young girl is neither physically, socially nor emotionally ready to act or become wives and mothers, yet are forced into marriages for the ungodly reasons.
Why Early Marriages?
There can be a hundred reasons parents of the couple give when one questions them of this under-aged union of two, still, everything will somehow connect with major issues, including the lack of proper education. Basis the work of countless noble people who worked to abolish this evil, below-mentioned are the main aspects of why people end up pushing their younger ones, especially girls into early marriages:
- Ladki paraaya dhan hae: A common notion further promoted by films till the ’90s, a girl is considered to be more of a temporary part of the family, as she is supposed to join her ‘real’ family post marriage. And for having such a culture, parents are rather worried to get their girls married as soon as possible, where sometimes, unfortunately, age is no bar.
- Haath se na nikal jaaye: Speaking of people who merrily marry their young girls to deal with the above-mentioned issues, the probability of ‘immoral behaviour’ at times results in honour killing. Early marriages are terribly influenced by the prevention of dishonour to the family name, directly linked with female’s sexual conduct.
- Dahej bhi to dena hae: No matter how poor the bride’s family may be, they must give everything needed for the newly-forming household and more, or else they will be shamed by the whole society. This is why girls are often considered a burden, where a female child’s birth brings sadness in the family, as she will only result in major expenses. They are not educated, as they will end up using the family’s money for dowry. These girls are then pushed to marry at an early age to bring down the dowry and ‘used’ to cook, clean, bear children and look after the family.
- Ladki zyada jeeti hae: Another infamous belief, women tend to live longer than males, leads parents into a much more heinous offence of marrying young girls with much elder men. The results are horrific, as incompatibility, inexperience and age difference end up in making their life a living hell.
- Ladki badi ho rahi hae: Lastly, as soon as a girl attains puberty and starts developing physically, the parents start getting worried about her security as per the number of rapes and related crimes that happen every day in the country. So they just hurry to send the girl into the home of her in-laws as perhaps the sexual predators won’t attack her if she is married.
Role of the Entertainment Industry
As mentioned above, the entertainment industry has its fair share in ruining the already ruined society. The 90’s cinema was all about “na me bhi haan” (there’s a yes in every no), “ladki paraayadhan hai” and so on. Such content impacts impressionable minds and eventually the older generations as well, who already believe in such things.
With modernisation and improvement of the entertainment industry, lately a few initiatives came to daylight, speaking of the evil of child marriage, but yet again meeting the same old fate of becoming daily soaps and fishing money. But there is a ray of hope as cinema is evolving, where films like ‘Bulbbul’ portray the ill-effects of such unions. There is a lot that the entertainment industry can do through the means of screen and quality content and there is still a long way to go before such efforts make an effective impression on the audience, so it has to begin today or the cause is lost.
Can We Do Something?
Yes, we play the most important role in stopping such unions and saving lives for real. This can be done in 3 simple, but very crucial ways:
- If you get to know about a child marriage taking place, reach for your phone and dial 1098. It is a toll-free helpline for children in distress and inform them of the act. Be a responsible citizen and human, by saving the girl from the agony she will face for the rest of her life.
- Try and impart knowledge about the ill-effects of child marriage to the people who believe in it. They can be anyone, from near or distant relatives to people around, ranging from help to security. Your efforts will help in saving lives, so don’t hesitate.
- If you may, please volunteer with NGOs and social workers focussing on such cause. if in media or similar industry, try generating content that focuses on this social evil.
As per UNICEF, India’s progress to curb child marriage is stronger than many South Asian countries. But to eliminate this evil from society by 2030, apart from the work of such organisations, additional effort and help is required. Are you ready to save lives and be a real-life super-hero? If Raja Ram Mohan Roy can work upon abolishing this practice in the 18th-19th century, why cannot we achieve it in the 21st century!