Call to ban child marriages

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, FEB. 25. Child marriages are no longer perpetrated in the name of tradition or custom, but are being used as convenient means of pushing young girls into flesh trade, said the director of the Joint Women's Programme, Jyotsna Chatterji.

Many young tribal girls in several parts of the country were `married' before being brought to the cities by those engaged in trafficking in women, she said.

She was speaking at a seminar on the Impact of Child Marriages, organised by the JWP's city chapter here on Thursday.

Poverty and poor socio-cultural situations were some of the factors responsible for the perpetration of child marriages. It was also an extension of the discrimination shown towards the girl child, by getting rid of her as soon as possible, she said.

The money spent on educating a girl child was still seen as a waste, because even a well-educated girl often had to pay a huge dowry to get married, Dr. Chatterji pointed out.

But even in well-to-do families, girls are married off at an early age in the name of tradition, family honour and often, to preserve caste hierarchy. Studies have also found that many people favoured child marriages to `protect' the girl from the threat of abuse or rape, which could bring dishonour to the family.

However, in recent times, child marriages were a guise to force young girls into prostitution, she said.

Child marriages had far reaching consequences on the physical and mental well-being of girls. Early or premature pregnancy, associated health problems and the burden of domestic affairs and contributing to the family's livelihood weaken her physically and mentally.

Premature pregnancy often led to complicated health problems and the rate of adolescent maternal mortality had been found to be high in communities where child marriages were practised, Dr. Chatterji said.

She said that a campaign against child marriages should focus on the fact that it was primarily a human rights violation and a denial of the rights of a child.

Every child had a right to childhood and opportunities for education and development and India being a signatory to the UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child, banning child marriages should be the priority of the Government, she said.

She said the Government should insist on registering all marriages. The Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 did not have enough teeth to prevent people from marrying off minor girl children.

Under the Act, the police can only `restrain' the marriage and take the alleged culprits to court.

It is for a magistrate to conduct an inquiry, take cognisance of the offence and then issue an injunction against it. What is required is a Child Marriage Abolition Act, Dr. Chatterji said.

Rosamma Chacko, chairperson of the State Social Welfare Board, inaugurated the seminar.