Alarming projection

A recent report of the Unicef on child marriages is again a reminder of the continuance of this practice in large parts of India.  The report also noted that some parts of the country, where the number of child marriages had considerably gone down, are witnessing a spurt now, though this may be because of the migration of people from other areas. The study found that among women in the 22-24 age group, two out of every five women surveyed had been married off as children. Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and West Bengal have the highest incidence of child marriage. A Unicef expert has observed that the rate at which child marriages are decreasing in the country it will take about 50 years to eradicate the practice.

That is a grim and disturbing projection which shows the failure of the strategies adopted and implemented in the country to end to this regressive social custom. It is not that there has not been any progress but it has been too slow. Child marriages once involved both boys and girls but now it is mostly girls who are married off at a very young age. The damage it does to the health and well-being of female children is clear. Many girls do not go to school at all. Out of those who attend school many discontinue their education when they get married. They will be dependent on their husbands for their entire lives. The practice is more prevalent in socially, economically and educationally backward areas and groups. The entrenched attitudes about the role of women in society are a major reason for the slow progress in the fight against the custom.

There are laws against child marriage but they are blatantly violated. The campaigns and awareness programmes of the government and other bodies have to be more effective. It should be noted that well-designed schemes directed at girl children have a positive impact. The Kanyashree Prakalpa scheme in West Bengal which offers scholarships to girl students has been able to keep girls in schools and prevent their early marriages. The state has won international praise, including from the Unicef, for the scheme.   If all states formulate and implement such schemes effectively, the country will not have to wait for decades to put an end to child marriages.

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