Poverty is said to be the first and foremost reason for child marriage
When it comes to co-existence, like the good and the profane, it also extends to the legal and illegal. While girls are scoring over boys in school education, higher education and even in the Civil Services examinations, there are still many getting married off before the age of 18 “which as per Indian law is considered to be child marriage.”
Public awareness about such marriages is not high, not because they there are no such incidences, but because most of them do not come to light.
Another belief is that these marriages do not occur in urbanised centres like Coimbatore. But the four reported cases in Coimbatore in just six months go to destroy both these myths. Four marriages of girls aged between 14 and 17 were stopped a few days before the date of the wedding. All four were arranged because the family was not able to provide for the girl owing to poverty. But the surprising factor was that out of the four, only one girl believed that education was the answer to escape from poverty and not an underage marriage.
District Social Welfare Officer Sherin Philip says that while there are many reasons for child marriage, like lack of awareness, illiteracy, considering the girl a burden, tradition, etc., the first and foremost is poverty.
“With no means to continue keeping the girl at home, parents, in most cases, the single mother, decide to marry them off to much older bridegrooms. They are not aware about the legal marriageable age, and even if they are, they tend to ignore it. Neighbours and seniors in the community sometime turn a blind eye, a reason for many cases going unreported. Even the girls are brainwashed into believing that this is the right thing to do,” she says.
It is unfortunate that lack of knowledge about the various Government schemes drives these people to break the law which stipulates the marriageable age of the girl to be 18 years and that of the boy to be 21 years.
Under the Department of Social Welfare (DSW) of the Government of Tamil Nadu, there are schemes for marriages that can be availed of by girls who have completed 18 years of age if their annual family income does not exceed Rs. 24,000.
And, as an added attraction, the Government has introduced incentives for girls who are educated.
Under the Moovalur Ramamirtham Ammaiyar Ninaivu Thirumana Nithi Udhavi Thittam, those who have studied Standard X or Plus-Two get a marriage assistance of Rs. 25,000 and 4g of gold. Diploma and degree holders get Rs. 50,000 and 4g of gold. There are various other schemes under different categories.
But those who apply for these schemes without completing 18 years will not be sanctioned the assistance.
The DSW in Coimbatore receives about 150 applications a month for marriage assistance.
According to the department officials, most of the girls are either diploma or degree holders.
This is an indication that many girls are taking up higher education in spite of their economic conditions, they say.
Ms. Philip adds that Government has come up with new schemes to ensure that girls from economically poor families get free education till graduation.
“When there are so many concessions and schemes for them, there is no reason why girls should be considered a burden on their families. Girls can be educated and also married off with assistance from the Government. There are also many philanthropists coming forward to help these girls. In such a situation, families should not resort to marrying off girls at an early age,” she says.
The Department has been conducting awareness programmes about the various schemes in all the blocks hoping that the local authorities will carry the message to the people of their area.