I remember how the classic film “Balika Badhu” presented the topic of marriage between two children in India at a tender age. Child marriages were not uncommon in our country in the pre-Independence era. Forward to half a century later, it is unfortunate that we are still discussing the topic of child marriage in the country today. To look at it from a religious perspective and classify it as a sort of an interference with a community, religion or culture is simply illogical.
Marriage not only for girls but for boys who have not attained the age of 18 leads to many social problems in the community. To begin with, it contributes to India’s population that is bursting at the seams. Moreover, it leads to mental health issues since the person does not get a chance to develop fully, both mentally and emotionally, at such a young age.
To opine that these young girls should be given a chance to perform beyond their household chores and bring out their talent is so passe when we are approaching a worldwide recession. The priority should be to educate and skill the women folk as much as men so that they can contribute to their household income. This will improve their finances and bring their families out of poverty.
If we look at the figures, they are extremely disappointing.
According to The National Family Health Survey-V (NFHS 2019-21) nationally 23.3% women between the age group of 20-24 were married off before attaining the age of 18. This means these women merely got a chance to get some basic education, that too only in a few cases, before they started their reproductive cycle. It also means, they would not be fully equipped to educate their future generations.
A report from Unicef states that pregnancy-related complications are the number one cause of death among girls between 15 and 19 years of age. Since adolescent girls are still growing themselves, they are at greater risk of complications if they become pregnant.
This contributes to an increase in the overall Maternal Mortality rate or MMR in the country.
It is great that MMR in the country declined from 130 per lakh live births in 2014-16 to 122 in 2015-17, and further dropped by 9 points to 113 in 2016-18. By 2017-19, India’s MMR was already down to 103, against a global MMR of 211 (2017).
However, as per the Sample Registration System (SRS) report of Registrar General of India(RGI), the MMR for the state of Assam is the highest in the country.
Is it only a coincidence that Assam also has the highest number of child marriages?
The efforts being carried out in this regard by the Assam Government need to be applauded. CM Himanta Biswa Sarma’s invoking of the stringent laws such as POCSO (The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act) could serve as a heavy deterrent in dealing with this social menace.
Instead, sadly, this issue is being targeted for political gains and vote bank.
A few months ago, with the support of around 70000 women from across the country, a nationwide Child Marriage Free India campaign in 10000 villages in over 500 districts was launched. The campaign was led by Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi.
It is such campaigns at the grassroots that give us hope for social reforms in rural India. And so should be supported beyond political and intellectual differences. As only physically and mentally astute citizens can usher in a more economically and socially developed India.
Infect, this campaign should run in other states with similar child marriage figures. And, should be supported by all political parties leaving their political and religious differences aside. As it affects a great number of our girls that are unable to completely live out their childhood.