‘Child marriage impacts our future, our education, our society, Adesh Mukati, a student of class 8th. It is time to play, learn, not a time to get married adds Shruti Mahawar, another student of class 8th’. These are not just two views but part of hundreds of view expressed by children against child marriages. These children are part of school forums set up by Child Rights Observatory, an independent child right monitoring body in Madhya Pradesh, working in partnership with UNICEF. Children have expressed their thoughts by drawings, essays and couplets.
Come Akshya Trithya, which is considered an auspicious Hindu day for marriages. In States like Madhya Pradesh in addition to marriages of adults, child marriages of both boys and girls do happen. As per District Level Household Survey III (year 2007-08) in Madhya Pradesh, around 29% girls and 40.5 % boys get married below the legal age of marriage. Madhya Pradesh is one of the top six states in India which have high incidence of child marriage and other five being Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, West Bengal and Jharkhand. Numbers have declined but it is still a reality.
This time around Government of Madhya Pradesh has announced a special campaign to help prevent child marriages. Instructions have been issued to District collectors that they should make efforts in their respective districts to ensure that no child marriage takes place. For this, they can seek assistance of the influential persons and groups who play important role organizing mass marriages. District Collectors have been asked to publicize importance of marriage at the right time and ill effects of marriage in children. They have been asked to set up a government call centre for receiving information about child marriage permanently. And it has been instructed that this arrangement should be for entire year.
District Collectors are Child Marriage Prevention Officers under Child Marriages Prevention Act-2006. The Act calls for prevention, protection of children and prosecution of law offenders. The law makes child marriages voidable by giving choice to the children in the marriage to seek annulment of marriage. Indore District Collector is trying to rope in pandits, bandwalas and caterers, and have asked them to inform the administration about any child marriage and avoid becoming a part of it. Similarly Rajgarh District is launching a special campaign which include engaging panchayts, kotwars and police officials. In Madhya Pradesh districts like Rajgarh, Barwani, Sheopur, Shahjanpur and Jhabua have high incidences of child marriages. UNICEF sees child marriage as a violation of child rights and a denial of childhood, normal growth and development of children.
UNICEF Chief of Field Office for Madhya Pradesh, Dr Tania Goldner says that ‘Girls between 15 and 19 are twice as likely to die of pregnancy related reasons then girls between 20 and 24. Once married, a girl or boy is expected to meet different obligations arising out of such marriage, including responsibilities towards the spouse, the family and society. In a child marriage, the individuals involved are not yet physically, mentally and emotionally ready to perform the obligations. We are ready to work in close coordination and collaboration with the State Government and with the Civil Society to support the efforts to stop child marriage in MP’ she added.
‘Unpreparedness of children if they get married makes them more vulnerable to violence and exploitation’. India has law in place which prescribes legal age of marriage, for girls as 18 and a boy as 21, and we need to work together to make sure that this law is being implemented and respected. We call on the State government to work out a long term action plan to make sure that no child get married before legal age of marriage, says Nirmala Buch, President of Child Rights Observatory.