India’s poor record in stopping child marriages can be blamed on two factors: tardy implementation of law and fear of falling foul of tradition.
Nationwide reports on mass child marriages show that authorities fail to tackle the menace that assumes endemic proportions on holy days such as Akshaya Tritiya or Akha Teej, which is on Monday this year.
“In many communities, child marriage is still considered a ritual,” said Krishna Tirath, Union minister for women and child development. “The problem arises mainly on account of low rate of registration of cases.” This year, the ministry plans to launch a new scheme, Saksham, for adolescent boys to give them lessons in gender sensitivity.
According to United Nations statistics, India has the largest number of child brides in the world, with nearly 43% of girls married under the legal age of 18.
An International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) study conducted for the Unicef in 2011 revealed that more than 68% of girls in Bihar and nearly 58% in Rajasthan were married off before they turned 18.
Since 2000, Karnataka (2004), Delhi, Haryana (2005) and Madhya Pradesh (2006) have put in place conditional cash transfer schemes for girls. Pro-girl schemes by the government to keep them in school and emphasise their value within the family have, however, been weakened by their own initiatives.
For instance, in 2012, a Rajasthan government scheme to support weddings of Dalit girls was criticised by the CAG for actually funding marriages of minors. (with inputs from Moushumi Das Gupta)