Major problem

While Karnataka’s women and child development department must be commended for preventing 61 child marriages between February and May this year, the fact that child marriages continue to be practised in North Karnataka is reason for serious concern. The legal age for marriage in India is 18 for girls and 21 for boys. Yet parents are continuing to defy the law to marry off their children when they are still minors. It has emerged that in north Karnataka some of the brides and grooms are below 10 years of age. Although Karnataka is not among the worst offenders in the country when it comes to child marriage it is not as if child marriage is not rampant here. A core committee on prevention of child marriage in the state had revealed earlier this year that 45 to 68 per cent of people who tie the knot in Karnataka do so before they turn 18. It said that child marriage was alarmingly high in the districts of Belgaum, Bidar, Bijapur, Bagalkot, Bellary, Gadag, Dharwad, Raichur and Koppal.

Child marriage is problematic not just because children lack the emotional maturity that marriage requires but because it has serious ramifications for the health of a child wife/mother. The body of a young girl is not able to withstand the rigours of pregnancy and motherhood. Girls under 15 are five times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than women in their 20s. Besides, the babies they give birth to are usually unhealthy and mal-developed.

Poverty and related problems push parents to get their children married early. Parents are often worried about the safety and security of their girl children. This fear is particularly high among nomadic communities and migrants. Early marriage is seen to be a solution in these circumstances. These insecurities need to be addressed to prevent child marriages. Legislation on age of marriage will not by itself prevent child marriages. The law must be enforced and stern punishment must be meted out to parents, priests, police and politicians who conspire to keep this social evil alive. It is well known that many children are married off in mass marriages, which are usually presided by politicians and ministers. If they are prosecuted — penalties alone will not do — people will think twice before getting children married.

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