Sloganeering won't stop child marriage

The Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (KSCPCR) has drawn attention to the worrying prevalence of child marriage in the state. It says that Karnataka accounts for 23.2% of all child marriages reported in the country. The legal age for marriage in India is 18 years for women and 21 years for men and while several steps have been taken by the government as well as activists to prevent child marriage, its practice is widespread. According to 2011 census data, 30% of Indian women were married before they turned 18 and almost 8 million or 2.3% of all women or girls who were ever married or were married in 2011 were married while they were not yet 10 years of age. In Karnataka, child marriage is most prevalent in the northern parts of the state, particularly in the districts of Yadgir, Dharwad, Belagavi and Bagalkot. Although the practice of child marriage has fallen over the decades, its continuing practice by a sizeable number is worrying. During childhood and adolescence, an individual should be studying, playing and leading a carefree life, and not be burdened by the responsibilities of marriage. Importantly, underage marriage has serious implications for the health of the woman. Early marriage often means early pregnancy. A child’s body is not ready for the rigour of childbirth and often results in miscarriages, underdeveloped infants, etc. Child marriage is an important reason for high infant and maternal mortality. Early marriage makes girls more vulnerable to domestic violence and especially when the husband is much older, the child bride is denied the right to make decisions, especially with regard to her reproductive health.

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has asked officials to ensure that the state is child-marriage free in five years. His government has done well to launch an awareness campaign to prevent child marriage. It is important that the campaign moves beyond mere sloganeering. Slogans are good to capture public attention but the complex problem of child marriage requires a comprehensive strategy. Besides tradition, poverty, patriarchy and insecurity are important reasons that drive people to get their children married. With a daughter being viewed as a burden, her family prefers to get rid of her as early as possible by marrying her off, often to an aged man.
The government’s campaign should, therefore, be multipronged. In addition to tackling the underlying reasons, it should educate the masses on why child marriage is wrong. Laws to prevent child marriage must be enforced. Roping in religious and community leaders could prove fruitful. Children must be made aware of and encouraged to use helplines to escape an impending child marriage.

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