Myriad causes for marrying off girls at young age

Myriad causes for marrying off girls at young age

A host of problems ranging from illiteracy to selling brides seem to be responsible for continuing instances of child marriages in Karnataka.

At a state-level consultation meeting held on Tuesday in the City, child protection officers, members of Child Welfare Committees and child rights activists from the districts outlined several causes for marrying off girls at an early age of 11 to 16.

The outcome of the consultation was a list of recommendations which will be sent to the United Nations Human Rights Council through the Indian Alliance for Child Rights. Recently, India backed out co-sponsoring a UN resolution on eliminating marriages of three kinds - child marriages, early marriages and forced marriages - despite recording a huge number of such instances.

Child rights activists working in the northern districts complained of the practice of selling young girls to families, mainly from Rajasthan. “Gujjar marriages” as they are known in the local parlance, involve impoverished parents “marrying off” their girls in exchange for Rs two lakh to families of the far-off state of Rajasthan.

The quantum of money depends on the “looks” of the girls. Marriages like these though attract laws related to human trafficking, the rate of prevention of such marriages is abysmally low.

School dropout rates significantly increase the chances of girls getting married early. Tajuddeen Khan, child protection officer in Ramanagara said when girls stay out of schools, parents automatically start thinking of getting them married.

“Retaining these girls in schools is very essential. In most cases, when girls are married early, it is usually the classmates and friends who inform us. Once the girls start staying at home and lose contact with their classmates, we have no way of knowing their fate. If the Education Department really makes an effort to re-enrol the girls into school, these numbers might drop,” he says.

Migration also seems to be a factor. According to Khan, Ramanagar faces an influx of population from Chamarajnagar and surrounding areas. Parents usually go in search of labour and sometimes do not return for a fortnight.

“They feel it is better to marry off girls, some as young as 11, as they are scared for the safety of these girls, when they leave home in search of job,” Khan says. In the last eight months, around 40 cases of child marriage have been reported in this district.

The neighbouring district of Mandya reports one of the highest incidences of child marriages.

According to Venkatesh, a child rights activist working with the child helpline in Mandya, they receive complaints of around 40 child marriages in a month during the ‘wedding months,’ the period which lasts for eight to ten months a year. “Sometimes we get as many as five calls a day,” he disclosed.

Emphasising the need to create awareness, Venkatesh admitted that officials on the ground level are unwilling to interfere in many cases. “The pressure from the community is so strong that officials hesitate to interfere because they are scared of the backlash and intimidation,” Venkatesh said.

Nagasimha Rao, Convenor of Karnataka Child Rights Observatory (KCRO) said there should be follow up efforts at least for six months when a child marriage is stopped. “Otherwise, a girl will be married off a fortnight later and we will not know about it.” he said.

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