With rapidly increasing cases of COVID-19 India is facing a sharp increase in Child Marriage cases as another cruel face of this pandemic. However, it is important to keep in mind that India has the highest number of ‘Child Brides’ in the world, with an estimate of 1 out of every 3 women in rural India are married before the age of 18 years.
According to the UNICEF report, the prevalence of child marriage has declined from 47% as recorded in 2005 to 27% in 2016. 2019 report of UNICEF reported that one out of every 3 child bride in the world is an Indian child and this pandemic made it worse.
With schools shut down and very poor access to technology (to avail the online classes), the fear that most of these girls will permanently drop out of the education system. It has become a challenge to reach out to families, and more to young girls, to educate them on why early marriages shouldn’t even be an option to consider. Early marriages often see the girl child quit education to fulfill family needs. If circumstances worsen, they’re also at the risk of slavery and domestic violence.
Investment in daughters was always a matter of debate for Indian rural societies. Her choices, her education, her likes, and dislikes were never a matter of concern for the society. Hence, Cost-cutting became the main reason for parents conducting marriages of their daughters during the lockdown, became the only option to survive this pandemic.
Usually, marriages cost a lot and lead to taking huge loans to conduct marriages but this lockdown made it easy for parents to conduct the marriage of their daughters when the pandemic has restricted big marriage functions and many relatives.
Narayan Shukla who works as an operator on the rescue hotline received a quite call from a 12-year-old girl using her 19-year-old husband’s phone for HELP. “Please come and rescue me, or they will kill me. Mom wants me to marry but I want to learn.” Narayan reached that location where the girl was located and found that the girl had not only been married but had also been sexually assaulted by the 19-year-old husband.
This story is not the only one, there are thousands more that are not yet reported and held quietly in a place no one knows about.
“In the past 3-months, CHILDLINE received 5,584 calls reporting child marriage. Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana are the top 5 States to have reported child marriages during these first 3 months. Karnataka alone accounts for nearly 29% of interventions for child marriage,” stated CHILDLINE data.
It is an alarming situation for India. Increasing the age for marriage is not a permanent solution to this problem, neither are legal laws, until there is enough awareness and access to education and infrastructure for each child so that no more child becomes a burden for the family.
A UN report had earlier predicted that the pandemic could lead to an additional 13 million child marriages over the next decade all over the world. The impact has already started in India, experts said.
Every day more than 25,000 girls under 18 are married worldwide. For many child brides, a future of poverty, exploitation, and poor health awaits.
What does child marriage mean for girls?
Being uneducated and not knowing things about the world, everything about marriage seems quite fantasizing and attractive to a girl who is not even 18 and illiterate. How a girl who was never being told the reality of the word ‘Marriage’, a girl who was never introduced to words like ‘SEX’ and ‘VIOLENCE’, how is she supposed to report when something goes wrong with her?
Child marriages put women and girls at increased risk of violence throughout their lives. Child Brides are more likely to describe their first sexual experience as ‘FORCED’. However, any Sexual activity with a girl/woman with or without her consent, when she is below 18 years of age, constitutes rape under the law.
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18.
That is 23 girls every minute –
Married off too soon, child brides are neither physically nor emotionally ready to become wives and mothers. They face more risks of experiencing dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth and suffer domestic violence.
The typical mindset that the girl child belongs to her husband’s family or the fear that children may marry outside their caste or religion makes the parents force their children into an early marriage. But this pandemic made it worse than ever for India.
It is high time to realize that early marriage can devastate a girl’s future potential, pushing her into adulthood and motherhood, before she is physically and mentally prepared for it. Child marriage robs girls of every opportunity to thrive. A human right violation denies girls their choice of when and whom to marry.
These marriages are the source of poverty, poor health, violence, inequality, and a never-ending loop of complete darkness not only for her but for all the generations to come.