Friday, August 31, 2012

Child marriages still drag Gujarat into medievalism

Ramisha (26) was married off at the tender age of 17 and is now a mother of three children. Ramisha’s father Vikarambhai Tadavi has started looking for suitable alliances for Ramisha’s younger siblings —Satish (16) and Juli (14). When Vikrambhai found a suitable girl for Satish, he started looking for a groom for her adolescent daughter as well so that the two marriages may be planned together.
    Fortunately for Juli, the local NGO Pratikar Trust came to know of the plan. They contacted Vikrambhai and his wife and convinced them not to marry off their daughter. The local sarpanch was also asked to counsel the couple against this child marriage. The couple has now decided to postpone this marriage till the girl attains the legal marriageable age.
    Similarly, child marriage is an ageold social custom in the Bharvad community of Bhadbhid village in Bhavnagar. This community believes in marrying girls off at an early age, as it apparently becomes difficult to find a suitable match when they are older. This custom has led to innumerable early marriages and child births and there have also been numerous instances where women died while delivering.
    Meena (17) lost her mother on the day she was born. But her destiny fell in the hands of the same social customs which led to her mother’s untimely death — child marriage. “In one of the community meetings, the girl told us that her marriage has been fixed. We held a meeting headed by the sarpanch to talk about the ill-effects of early marriage. The community has now pledged not to get their under-age girls married”, said Moumita Dastidar, a member of UNICEF.
    The consultation aimed at discussing practice and prevalent child marriage in select blocks and districts of Gujarat for the purpose of generating awareness among government counterparts and to initiate a programme to create awareness on the ill-effects child marriage and means of preventing it.
    “Child marriage has adverse effects not only for the child bride and bridegroom but for the society as a whole. For both girls and boys, marriage has profound physical, intellectual, psychological and emotional impacts, cutting off educational opportunities and chances of personal growth,” said director of IITGN Sudhir Jain.
    “For society as a whole, child marriage reinforces the cycle of poverty and perpetrates gender discrimination, illiteracy, as well as high infant and maternal mortality rates,” he added.