Fears that they would set a “bad example” to others

Is there any bar on married girls pursuing their education in Class XI of a government school? This intriguing question has arisen in the minds of many people at Melur, a town situated about 20 km from Madurai, abutting the highway leading to Tiruchi and Chennai.

This year, the only government girls’ higher secondary school in the town denied admission to at least two girls who got married, at the instance of their families, after completing their tenth standard. And the reason for such denial is that the presence of married girls in the school will set a bad example for other students.

Efforts taken to approach the two girls and their parents were futile as they feared penal action for having solemnised the marriage of minor girls. When contacted, the school Headmistress Nirmala admitted that she had denied admission to them in Class XI. Though the students had studied up to Class X in the same school, admission to Class XI was not automatic.

Asked if there were any married girls studying in the school, the Headmistress said there were cases in the past but no such girl was studying in the school at present. When questioned further, she said that she had denied admission to two such girls in Class XI this year.

Sources privy to the issue said giving minor girls in marriage immediately after completing Standard X was a common phenomenon in the villages around Melur. In the past, previous headmistresses of the school had let married girls continue their studies after taking a written undertaking that they would neither discuss familial matters with other students nor “go the family way” until they complete schooling.

“The present headmistress alone has taken a stand that she will not allow married girls to continue in the school. She refused to budge even after the mother of one of those girls broke down and pleaded to let her daughter study in the school.

M. Ajmal Khan, a senior advocate practising in the Madras High Court Bench here, says that such issues arise because the practice among certain communities to give girls in marriage immediately after attaining the age of 16 runs counter to the definition of a child as one below 18 years of age under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006.

He points out that a number of habeas corpus petitions are being filed in the High Court by parents of minor girls who elope with their lovers.

In one case, the parents of a minor girl went to the extent of seeking a direction to a government hospital to abort the foetus of their daughter. But the court refused to pass such directions.

“When even the hands of the courts are tied in such cases, denying permission to minor girls to pursue their studies is completely illegal and uncalled for.

Already there is a conflict between the general law relating to marriage and the personal laws of different communities. It is high time the law makers gave a serious thought to the issue,” he adds.

C. Anantha Raj, Executive Director of Equal Right, a non-governmental organisation here, says that marriages of minor children are not uncommon in the villages of southern districts.

The police do not interfere because not many complain about it. Such cases come to light only when someone blows the whistle due to a family feud. Further, it is only in rare cases that minors are allowed to study after marriage. The general practice is to make them raise a family. “Education is empowerment and if we are going to close the doors of a school to married girl students, then that is going to strike a death knell to women’s empowerment,” he concludes.

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