Birth, marriage and death are, in general, the three main evens in a person´s life. Marriage, however, is the only one we choose but, unfortunately, this is not the case for millions of boys and girls in certain parts of the world who are forced to marry and are deprived of their right to choose.
Indian Law forbids child marriages but this ancestral practice still exists. This country is the second, after Bangladesh, among the countries of Southern Asia for its number of child marriages, a sad world record of 40% of them. Girls at birth are promised in marriage to men who very often are much older. Later, when the girls reach menopause, around the age of 10 or 11, they are given in marriage to a husband. In this way, at a very early age, they lose their childhood and are obliged to face the reality of adult life. In India child marriages are a normal practice in the rural areas of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajastan, Chhattisgarh, Bihar Andhra Pradesh where 47% of the girls are married before they reach the age of 18.
Child marriage is a terrible violation of human rights; it is an obstacle in the development of the child, depriving it of education, health and a future. In particular, it is a danger for the health of girls since being too small to endure sex relations and pregnancy, they often die on giving birth or they survive with serious health issues. According to a UNICEF report of 2015, the birth rate among adolescent mothers in India is 39%. As far as education is concerned, the male and female children given in marriage are deprived of their right to education and, therefore, of a better future.
Formal prohibition of child marriage by International Law
There are innumerable international reports forbidding and condemning child marriage. Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child refers in a certain manner to precocious marriages where it stipulates that children have the right to express their opinion freely on decisions that may concern them (Diane BE- Carolina de la Cruz Montserrat -Humanium).
ASSOCIATION AKSHY ACTIVITIES
AKSHY ASSOCIATION wishes to contribute to reducing the number of child marriages which take place in Bihar. For this we are holding awareness workshops for parents in an attempt to convince them to put an end to this practice for the good of their daughters in the future.
Last week we had a workshop in which 50 mothers and some fathers attended a talk given by our social worker Mala Devi where relevant videos were also projected.
We are trying to start a dialogue with the mothers to know exactly why they permit child marriages. The main problem for families and the reason for child marriage is the dowry and poverty. A dowry is illegal in India in just the same way as a child marriage is illegal but it continues to take place, causing families to want to marry their daughters at an early age since in this way the dowry is a lesser amount. If a girl has received education then she has to be given in marriage to a boy with education and his family will demand a higher dowry.
The families are poor; they only earn enough to survive; their savings capacity is nil, so they have to borrow to pay the dowry and this has to be repaid with a very high interest – 10% or more. The older the girl the higher the dowry. Most parents work in the fields in conditions of slavery. They are not paid with money but with grain or in kind; 4kg. of rice per day which, if they sell it, will only bring them 1.10 Euros. They do not have regular jobs, only about 15 days per month so it is impossible for them to save for a dowry. They suffer a lot of social pressure since it is not considered acceptable for a girl to be married late. If they hear that a daughter has fallen in love with a boy or a boy is interested in her, the first thing to be done is to marry them. If anything unacceptable were to happen, the girl would be considered impure before society and no one would wish to marry to marry her. Often men of higher castes try to sexually abuse the girls and their parents cannot defend them; for parents, therefore, matrimony is a solution. Once the girl reaches puberty she is in danger of going against the social norms, of having some powerful male rape her and so ruin her future. For these reasons parents marry their daughters at an early age, at 13/14 years of age, to protect them.
During the talk Mala Devi described the disadvantages of child marriage: the girls will not be able to finish their education and cannot therefore aspire to a job with dignity. This will affect their earnings as well as their health. If they have poor health they cannot work: poverty brings domestic violence, pregnancies at an early age dangerous for the life both of the mother and of the baby (malformations), illiteracy, lack of opportunities for subsequent generations – more poverty if she cannot feed her children, etc. Mala Devi as well as making them aware of the problems caused by child marriage, advised those women who have still not done so, to join our Microcredits programme since it will give them the opportunity to save for their daughters´ dowries and so allow them to marry when a little older..
It is hard to break ancestral traditions and, above all, fight against the misery and poverty which is frequently imposed upon their human rights. but we do believe that by constant work on the awareness factor a change could gradually come about, even if only very slowly, in the dalit community.