R. Sujatha

Parents believe girls are ‘safer’ married, say NGOs

The incidents have risen since 2004

All the married adolescents are school dropouts

CHENNAI: Transit school teachers in the northern fishermen’s hamlets of Chennai are complaining that girls in the area are being married off before the legal age of 18 years since the tsunami. .

According to the women who run transit schools in these slums, the girls are married off early because the parents are out at work and believe that their teenage daughters are “safer” in a marriage, rather than staying alone at home. The incidents have risen since 2004 because the sense of insecurity was high after the sudden calamity, the teachers said.

In some of the slums the young women are conversant with the law and claimed they were 18, but when asked about the babies in their arms, they conceded that they were married before the legal age. “Getting them married off is a better option as parents work as small hawkers or daily wage earners, and don’t have time to monitor their wards,” said K. Rita, who teaches at the Indira Nagar slum in Kasimedu.

In some cases, the mothers do not care to invest time in bringing up their girl children. Other transit school teachers concur with her. All the married adolescents are school dropouts. When the school sends classmates to check out on the students they are turned away rudely, the teachers said.

Kanaga (17) joined a transit school run by Karunalaya, a non-government organisation working with slum children, in 2003. “We admitted her to the Corporation middle school but since then she has dropped out,” said Rita. Kanaga said she dropped out the next year because she did not like going to school. Besides she had fallen in love. Similarly, most of the married girls said they were married to the person of their choice. The husbands are daily wage ‘coolies’ with no steady income, some of them in fishing trade have not benefited from the generous donation of boats and catamarans.

Devi (18), dropped out of school because her mother was worried about her health. “The school toilets were not good so my mother did not want me to go.” She has a six-month-old-baby. These girls have company. “There are many like us who have been married at a young age,” said Kanaga, pointing to the numerous shacks around her.

In Tiruchanankuppam slum, community development worker Auxilla Mary has seen a number of such incidents. Suganthi (17) is a class VII dropout married to a tempo driver in Tiruvannamalai. On why she was married off so young, Suganthi’s aunt pointed out that her parents felt that it was better than keeping her at home. What is of concern is the dismal conditions these young mothers live in. In these hamlets a number of people suffer from diarrhoea and vomiting. Flies swarm the area and the young mothers are not aware of the need for cleaner, healthier environments .