Child Marriage –causes and consequences

>> Thursday, May 27, 2010

Surveys on child marriages that have been carried on in India, show that child marriages contribute to numerous social problems like soaring birth rates, acute poverty and malnutrition, high illiteracy and infant mortality and low life expectancy etc. In Rajasthan state in India, a survey of more than 5000 women conducted in 1995 by the central government showed that 56 percent of women were married before attaining the age of maturity. Even 15. 3 percent of these were married before the age of 5 years and the 14%   were married before the age of 10 years.  Out of every 1000 births, 73 children died in their infancy and 103 were under the age of 5 when they died. Sixty three percent of the children fewer than 4 years of age were found to be severely undernourished. “Sociologists say that the Gujjars and similar groups trace the origin of child marriages to Muslim invasions that began more than 1,000 years ago…. Today the stories are still echoed in the local view that any girl reaching puberty without getting married will fall prey to sexual degradations
 Any marriage of a female child younger than 18 years and a male child younger than 21 years, in accordance to the Article -1 of the Convention on the Rights of Child, is called as Child Marriage or Early Marriage.
In fact, Child Marriage is the practice in which the parents of two small children arrange a future marriage. These children are not allowed to meet each other until the wedding ceremony is performed at their age of maturity. This age may differ from culture to culture. In some cultures this age often falls even before the onset of their puberty.
The child marriage is a world wide phenomenon but it is most prevalent in Africa and Southern Asia and although its practice has decreased somewhat in recent decades, it remains common in (although not only confined to) rural areas and among the most poverty stricken populations.

The International Institute for Population Sciences; Mumbai conducted a Child Health Survey from 2002 to 2004 in different states of India. According to the study conducted by this institute the percentage of child marriages in some states of India are – 52 in Bihar, 44 in Jharkhand, 49 in Rajasthan, 28 in Haryana, 10 in Punjab, 10 in Uttaranchal, 46 in West Bengal and 39 in Andhra Pradesh. It has been found that the rules framed for the abolition of Child Marriages and efforts of Governments are being proved ineffective on the ground levels.                                  
Causes of Child Marriage
There are two fundamental reasons behind child marriage- Poverty and Economic Transactions, and Notions of Morality and Honour.
·         Poverty and Economic Transactions-Poverty is a critical factor which encourages child marriages. Rather, it is a reason behind that. In communities where child marriage is thought to be a transaction that often represents a significant economic activity for the family, the girl child   is the only commodity the family has with it to trade and sometimes to use it as a currency to settle a debt. In some poor African societies young girls are considered to be properties of their parents who can attain greater wealth and are married in early years.
·         Notions of Mortality and Honour-Notions of Mortality and Honour have been enshrined deeply in many cultures. These factors encourage the practice of child marriage. High values have been placed on female virginity in Indian culture since very long. It is being considered shameful if a girl going to marry is not virgin. Hence, parents stand searching appropriate groom for their daughters even earlier to her puberty.
Consequences of Child Marriage
Child marriages have many detrimental consequences that can be classified as physical, developmental, psychological and social.
1.Physical Consequences: When a girl child is married in early age she is likely to be forced into sexual activity with her husband who usually remains much older than him. As the bride remains physically and sexually immature it has serious health consequences.
2.Developmental Consequences: Child marriage and gender inequality limits the development of a girl child to her reproductive roles only. Studies conducted in Africa show that there is a strong relation between woman’s age between marriage and the level of education she achieves. Early marriage of a girl child results in a low level of education and life skills, increases vulnerability to abuse and poor health and thus acute poverty.
3.Psychological and Social Consequences: A girl child married in her early age has to lift the huge responsibility of playing the role of a wife and mother. Since such girls are not prepared to become a wife and mother, this heavy burden has a serious impact on the psychological welfare and relationship of these children. Early marriages have also been found to have connections with abandonment and increased levels of divorce. Child brides often face the danger of being widowed by their husbands due to old, disease or other reasons. Some brides often become domestic slaves of their in-laws.
Indian and Global Scenarios of Legislation against Child Marriages
The central government of India has enforced Child Marriage Restraint Act – 1929, revised on 1 Oct. 1978 through which it has raised the legal age of marriage as 18 years for girls and 21 years for boys.
Child marriage has been prohibited through a number of International Conventions and other instruments on global level. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 states through its Article 16 (I) that men and women of full age have the right to marry and form a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and its dissolution. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending parties.
According to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child 1990 and its Article XII- Child Marriages and brothels of girls and boys shall be prohibited and effective action including legislation shall be taken to specify the minimum age of marriage to be 18 years.
The convention on the Rights of Child, 1989 (CRC- 198) has been satisfied by all the countries with the exception of the US & Somalia. A number of articles within the CRC hold relevance to child marriage like Article 3, Article 19, Article 24, 28 29 and 36.
Education can play an important role in efforts of eliminating child marriages. UNICEF has researched into child marriages and has come to the conclusion that ‘more education a girl receives, the less likely she is to be married as a child’. Therefore, access to female education and elimination of gender gaps in education, can be important strategies for abolition of child marriages.
Key Words : child marriage, life expectancy, birth rate, poverty,puberty,International Institute for Population Sciences, African societies, Rights and Welfare of the Child 1990, rticle XII- Child Marriages and brothels of girls and boys, divorce, elimination of gender gaps,abolition of child marriages

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