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Child Marriages Still in Place in India

Armedia IAA talked to Dr. Priyanka Mathur, Assistant Professor and Shilpi Goswami, Programming Head of Radio-7, ISIM - International School of Informatics & Management, Jaipur, India

-  The Indian TV serial “The Little Bride” is on the Armenian TV. Is child marriage so common in India?

Sh.G. - Yes, it is very-very common. Child marriage is not decreasing in the rate we want to decrease it despite our efforts. In Rajasthan state it is very much prevalent. It can happen that when the married girl dies, on the same funeral function her younger sister will be married off to her dead sister’s husband, even if the age gap between them is 20, even 30 years. It is just because girl’s parents do not want to organize a separate wedding function and will save expenses. The root cause of this is poverty, lack of education. In the villages there are few schools. For higher education they have to send the girls out of the village but that is not safe. Parents think that it's better to give education to boys because they will stay with parents, they will work. And girls will do all the household work while parents will work in the fields.

But now the boys leave the village, go to other places because there is a problem of water, irrigation. Rajasthan is a desert area, there is a water problem. Sometimes women have to walk 2-3km to get potable water. After walking such a distance with big water pots on their heads, they do not have the energy to study.

P.M. - If there is water, it is contaminated, not potable. So people are buying bottled water. They spend what they earn to buy water. Underground resources of water are all dried up. Wells in populated areas are either dried up or the water is contaminated there. There is no arrangement of waste.

There is a government program “Health India mission” which is related to sanitization issues. That starts from picking up dirt from homes, roads, segregating plastic waste, reusable waste, dry waste and wet waste, reducing the flow of industrial waste into the rivers. Government definitely takes its own initiatives but because of huge amount of population not all programs reach maximum number of people. Population is our major issue. Lack of education and awareness is one of the aspects. The children are not aware of their rights, how to keep themselves clean.

- Is there any program to reduce the population like China had its “One family, one child” program?

P.M. - The Indian government has some schemes for those people who have only two children. Only these people can fight for elections, can opt for government jobs. If you have two girls you get some benefits. There are so many schemes to motivate people to have only two kids. But there is no such an iron rule like in China.

- Decades ago there was a population sterilization program. What is new about it?

P.M. - It is still there. We have medical councils in all rural areas. Regularly they are being set up for sterilization for both males and females. But still there are many people who believe that “more hands, more work, more money”. This is the mentality.

Please tell about those girls’ problems who get married at an early age.

Sh.G. - They have health problems, they are abused physically and sexually by the family members, relatives because they do not know their rights. They give birth at a young age which affects their health. Then they also marry off their daughter at a young age. Many of these young mothers do not survive after delivering their first baby at the age of 12, 13, 14. Or they survive but kids do not. They also get sexually transmitted diseases.

Are there any government programs for girls, for young mothers?

Sh.G. - There are a lot of programs, like – free education till 5th class and 8th class. Government gives them free uniforms, free books, free meals at school. But only to get all these the children go to school, they don’t study. Sometimes there are no regular teachers, school structure is not that good, no water facilities, no electricity. So many problems in one school. And the reason is poverty. You cannot solve one problem and leave the others. If you tackle the problem of poverty, then you tackle the problem of awareness, the importance of education, nutrition, infrastructure of the school, educating the teachers because many of them are not ready to go to the villages. All these problems are interrelated. You have to take care of all these problems. There are also night schools. But again there is a problem – who will do the household work, take care of the cattle?

- What is the situation of widows now? Before the widows were taken to special temples where they lived the rest of their life. Or there was the tradition of Sati when the widow was burnt alive in his dead husband’s funeral fire.

P.M. - There is no Sati any more, 30-40 years back we came out of it. Widows are provided with facilities by the government. They are allowed to remarry, that is not a sin any more. To be a widow is not a curse any more.

- In India there are many cases of killing girls – before birth or after birth. What would you say about this?

Sh.G. -  In less educated communities this practice is still there, and not across India but only in few states: Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh. The main reason of killing girls is the dowry. Because the parents have to spend a good amount of money on the girl’s marriage. To avoid that they kill the girl after birth. Even before birth when they know the child’s gender, they do abortion. That’s why now the doctors are officially not allowed to tell the child’s gender. If a doctor tells the child’s gender before birth, they will get suspended from their job for some time. And now girls’ birth ratio increases.

P.M. - If you go to south, the situation is absolutely reverse, if you go to east and north-east, it’s a female dominated society, girls are preferred more. In Nagaland even they have one custom that the woman can have more than one husbands, but that’s a very small community, one tribe. In Assam and Meghalaya states there is another community– Khasi – where the husband comes to live in the wife’s house. There is another custom in one community in Rajasthan: if a girl is born in a family, you give a party to the whole village and they plant as many plants and trees as the number of population of the village. So we have so many things which are very good, and also very bad. We have all flavours in India – the bright shades and dark shades of colors…


Interviewed by Naira S. Mkrtchyan

Jaipur, India

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