Almost 80 years after the first law against child marriage came into force, child marriage continues unabated in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Nearly seven out of 10 people in Rajasthan married their sons and daughters before the legally acceptable age of 21 and 18, respectively. In MP, 0.4 per cent of girls under three are already married. Nearly 4 per cent are “Mrs So-and-so” at the age of 3-8 years; 6 per cent have a married woman’s status between 8 to 13. In Varanasi, 30 per cent are married before they turn 18.
These are the findings of ‘A Study on Child Marriage in India: Situational Analysis in Three States’, which concluded in December 2007. The study, shared exclusively with the Hindustan Times, was conducted by the Centre for Social Research and the National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development (under the Ministry of Women and Child Development). In all, 870 people were interviewed, including the child brides and grooms, their families, panchayat members, police, NGOs and district magistrates.
The study found that of all the marriages in Rajasthan’s Tonk district, 82 per cent boys and 76 per cent girls are married before they turn 21 and 18.
Elected representatives – the role models – too practise child marriage. In Shajapur, 20 per cent of panchayat members said they got their sons, aged 3 to 12, married. Another 20 per cent had got their daughters aged 8-13 married. In Rajasthan, nearly one-third of the elected representatives had married off their underage children.
When the child brides and grooms were asked what marriage meant to them, nearly 67 per cent in UP said it was “celebrating a festival”, 42 out of 100 said it was about “being the centre of attraction” and 25 per cent it was an “occasion to get new clothes”. These were the common responses received from the married children in the other two states as well.
“Usually, when we talk about child marriage, we talk only about the reproductive health of the girl child,” says Ranjana Kumari, director, Centre for Social Research. “It’s much more than that. A child who is married young misses out on a complete life – on childhood, education, a career and of course, health.”