Wrong signal

India’s refusal to co-sponsor a widely supported resolution against child marriages at the UN has marred its reputation and raised questions about the country’s commitment to fight the practice. Not only India but other countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan were also unwilling to sponsor the resolution which was however passed.

These are the countries where there is the highest rate of child marriages in the world. India in fact accounts for the largest number of such marriages -- 24 million of the 60 million all over the world. Though marriage before the age of 18 is legally banned it occurs widely but action was taken against only 400 persons under the law in 2012.

The resolution recognised child, early and forced marriages as human rights violations, called for their elimination and inclusion of this aim in the post-2015 agenda of all countries. The external  affairs ministry has unconvincingly stated  that India was not opposed to the resolution but did not co-sponsor it because the phrase ‘early marriage’ was not defined. This is a lame and technical excuse because the domestic law has already defined the age. The fact is that it did not want to actively associate with a resolution which it was not fully prepared to implement. This was clear from the observations India made at the UN venue that the cause of child marriages was poverty and backwardness and it was better to allow these practices to die out naturally. That amounts to an attempt to evade responsibility  and unwillingness to effectively enforce the law.

It is this questionable attitude that has tainted the country’s position. Human rights organisations and groups that have campaigned against child marriages have condemned India’s lack of will in the matter.  Marriages before the age of physical and psychological maturity are damaging from the health and reproductive points  of view. Such marriages also deprive children of their right to education. Many problems like high rates of maternal and infant mortality and domestic violence and low status of women can be attributed to this practice. It is the girl child who mainly suffers because of early and forced marriages. India’s dubious stand on the issue in the world forum has sent an avoidable wrong signal about its will to curb this practice, especially when there are demands within the country to lower the age of marriage.

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