Agency thwarts illegal child marriage in India
While still widely practiced, girls take steps to avoid too-soon matrimony to finish education
While highly illegal throughout India, child marriage is a custom that is still widely practiced. It's estimated that half of all Indian women have been married before they reach the age of 18. The Childline India Foundation is working to halt this practice, in order to insure that Indian girls and women have the opportunity to finish their education and move forward in the rapidly modernizing world.
While highly illegal throughout India, child marriage is a custom that is still widely practiced. It's estimated that half of all Indian women have been married before they reach the age of 18.
One such girl who was saved from going in to the arms of a prearranged bridegroom is 16-year-old Bithika Das. Living in a small village in West Bengal state, Bithika is concentrating on her school work, and is mindful of the time when this opportunity could have been lost forever when her parents arranged her marriage to a young man while she was 14 years of age.
"If I got married then, my education would have stopped at ninth grade. I could have achieved nothing in the future with an incomplete education. In my husband's family, I was not going to get good respect," she says.
When Bithika's parents refused to cancel the marriage arrangement, she contacted the Murshidabad office of the Childline India Foundation. The foundation maintains a 24-hour hotline, providing counseling and other help to children in crisis.
Childline activist Debika Ghoshal then stepped in to stall the premature marriage of Bithika. Working with the local police, the foundation lodged criminal complaints to those who didn't comply with the law banning child marriage. Activists then focus on ensuring that a young girl is able to continue with her education.
"The girls say they want to study further. They are closer to the media and they know that society - the world - is marching ahead; everyone is advancing," Ghoshal says. "So, they, too, want to move ahead. But mostly because of poverty and partly for some other social reasons the parents want to marry them [their daughters] off in their childhood."
Child marriage remains an unwanted option among India's poorer families. By marrying off their young daughters, these families can reduce their financial burden and some avoid paying a higher dowry to the child's potential in-laws.
In a related case, Murshidabad resident Amena Begum had hoped to marry off her 14-year-old daughter before the marriage was thwarted by activists. Her daughter was then allowed to return to school.
"Where shall I get a suitable groom for her if I don't marry her off right now, and let her study further, and finally she turns 25?" Begum asks.
The United Nations already has raised awareness of the consequences of child marriage in India, citing the higher drop-out rates of child brides and their greater risk of being physically and sexually abused.
© 2012, Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.
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Keywords: India, child marriage, Childline India Foundation, dowries
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