Child marriages in Rajasthan halved in 10 years
The state government launched the Ladli Samman campaign in 2014 to spread awareness against child marriage and encourage under-aged brides to resist gauna (the ceremony where the wedded woman enters her husband’s house) until they turn 18.jaipur Updated: Dec 22, 2016 15:41 IST
Priyanka Gujjar’s marriage was fixed 16 years ago, when she was still a foetus in her mother’s womb.
The wedding took place nine days after her birth, and she took the seven rounds around the sacred fire sitting on her mother’s lap. However, Priyanka – now a Class 11 student at a government senior secondary school in Tonk district’s Niwaria village – has refused to go to her husband’s house before she completes her studies.
“My father and father-in-law are friends. When my mother and mother-in-law were expecting, the two fixed our marriage, hoping that one will deliver a girl and the other a boy,” she told volunteers of the Ladli Samman campaign who went to her school in November.
The state government launched the campaign in 2014 to spread awareness against child marriage and encourage under-aged brides to resist gauna (the ceremony where the wedded woman enters her husband’s house) until they turn 18.
The campaign began on September 20 this year and ended on November 30, covering 120 gram panchayats in four blocks of the district – Tonk, Todaraising, Deoli and Uniara.
According to data from the National Family Health Survey 2015-16 (NFHS-4), the percentage of women who were married before 18 – the legal age for women to get wedded in India – came down by half in Rajasthan over the last 10 years. It showed that only 35.4% women in the 20-24 age group tied the knot before 18 during this period. In NFHS-3 (2005-06), it stood at 65.2%.
Among men, the decline was not as steep in NFHS-4. The percentage of men who married before 21 – the legal age of marriage for men – came down to 35.7 from 57 in NFHS-3.
However, activists working against the illegal practice of child marriage are not satisfied. The pace of the decline is still too slow, they say.
“Between NFHS-3 (2005-2006) and NFHS (2015-2016)-4, there has been a decline of 35% in child marriage, which means an annual decline of about 3%. This is too less, if you compare that with the annual growth of Rajasthan’s gross domestic product,” said Sanjay Nirala, the child protection officer of UNICEF, Rajasthan.
“More attention and investment is needed to eradicate the harmful practice,” he added.
Nirala pointed out that the data also needs to be correlated with the total number of unmarried people below the legal age of marriage. “There is a vast difference. There were 6% women in the 15-19 age group who had already given birth or were pregnant at the time of the survey (2015-16) in the state. This proportion was 16% in 2005-06,” he said.
Laadli Samman covered 360 gram panchayats in three seasons of 70 days each.
Vipin Tiwari, the campaign convenor, said the percentage of child marriage was going down due to rising awareness levels. “But the percentage is still high. We want complete eradication of this illegal practice,” he added.
Kriti Bharti of the Jodhpur-based Sarthi Trust, which works with young couples to annul child marriages through courts, said child marriages were being solemnised during Mosar (the ceremony held when someone in the family dies) instead of Akshay Tritiya (the auspicious day for weddings in the Hindu month of Vaishakha, which coincides with late April-early May).
“This is because the state machinery sounds an alert, and district collectors set up control rooms for information on possible child marriages, a few days before Akshay Tritiya begins. Families in the state believe they can escape detection if their children are married off on other occasions,” Bharti said.