First regional meet of ‘Girls Not Brides' to be held in Delhi

A team from The Elders, an organisation of independent global leaders working for peace and human rights, visited Bihar on Tuesday in a bid to root out the practice of child marriage and back the State government's efforts to combat it.

The Elders has taken up the issue under the banner of Girls Not Brides — a global partnership initiated last year. It brings together over 80 civil society organisations spread across five continents to tackle the problem at the grass roots, national and global levels.

Earlier in the day, the delegation that comprised personalities such as Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Ela Bhatt, Gro Brundtland and Mary Robinson interacted with a group of 20 youths from the township of Masaurhi in Patna district.

They said they found the interaction “most satisfying,” with the youths displaying a high degree of awareness of the risks posed by child marriage.

“Big hindrance”

The delegation said their visit to the State was prompted by the fact that it had the highest rate of child marriages in the country with more than 60 per cent girls married before the age of 18 (as per the National Family Health Survey NHFS–3, 2005-06). Almost half (around 48 per cent) of these girls were married by the age of 15.

“I believe that this issue is a big hindrance to gender equality,” said Archbishop Tutu, who serves as the Chair of The Elders, which was founded by Nelson Mandela in 2007. This is his first visit to India since 1972.

Ms. Bhatt, founder of the Self-Employed Women's Association of India, said child marriage hindered the achievement of six of the eight Millennium Development Goals.

The objective was to spread awareness and augment the State government's efforts by listening to young people addressing the issue, noted Ms. Robinson, the first woman-president of Ireland and a former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“Once a girl has had the chance to go to school and delay marriage until she is well over 18 years of age, it is hardly likely that she would allow her daughter to get married at a young age.”

Nationally, 47 per cent of Indian women get married before18, with a third of the world's ‘child brides' residing in India.

The highest child marriage rates were recorded by Bangladesh (66 per cent), followed by India and Afghanistan (39 per cent).

Many risks

“Women getting married before the legal age face considerable risks to theirs as well their children's bodies, in the sense that girls who get pregnant early are at a far higher risk of death and injury than women who give birth in their 20s,” Dr. Brundtland, a former Norwegian Prime Minister said.

Their babies were more likely to die in infancy. So, increasing the bar for marriage was essential to prevent tragic deaths, she added.

The first regional meeting of Girls Not Brides will take place in New Delhi from February 9 to 10.

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