Early to wed

Early  to wed

In Bihar’s Champaran district, famous for Gandhiji’s Indigo movement against Britishers in 1917, the fruits of literacy campaign are yet to reach women. After 63 years of Independence, 80 per cent of the girls are married off at the average age of 17 against the legally permissible age of 18, and the national average age 19.5.

The scene is no different at Nawada in Central Bihar, where 73 per cent of women are married before they reach the legally permissible age of marriage, while in Kaimur and Rohtas, it is 70 per cent.

The figures have been compiled by agencies monitoring the population indices.
According to a report of the National  Sample Survey-3, 68.3 per cent of women in Bihar are anemic and many of them die during child birth. The statistics revealed that a girl child in this part of India is still considered to be an economic burden. Poverty, low literacy rate and awareness level force parents to marry off their daughters early to avoid social stigma, protect them from sexual assault and assure them a male guardian. Child marriage is, therefore, both a protection and rights issue in Bihar.

The study also pointed out a correlation of early marriage with literacy. Patna, for example, recorded only 40 per cent of child marriages due to high literacy level (52.7 per cent) among women.

Child groom

Speaking at a workshop on child marriage, managing director of the Women Development Corporation (WDC) in Bihar, N Vijayalakshmi said, “I had heard of child
marriages even before coming to Bihar. But here I came to know of the practice of parents of young girls kidnapping boys and marrying them to their daughters forcibly.”
Taking potshots at bureaucrats from Bihar, she said, “I know of some IAS officers here who were kidnapped and married off. Later, on becoming IAS officers, they did not continue with their first marriage.

I will not take their names, but I came to know this when I joined the Bihar cadre.”   
An IPS officer, Raj Bardhan Sharma said the appeal and the craze for civil services in Bihar have been such that in Madhubani, a boy was virtually sold at a bid of Rs 24 lakh. The bride was then just 15.

Child rights experts believe that early marriage of girls is more the norm among the upper castes who view it as a status symbol. “Many a married IAS and IPS officers, besides a prominent playback singer from Bihar, have entered matrimony again after dumping their brides of student days, an official averred.

Experts believe that for progressive elimination of child marriage, it is important to adopt an integrated approach so that the process of changing social norms is supported through the availability of alternative opportunities for girls, create an enabling environment and carry out structural improvements including effective implementation of various legislations.          

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