Even as you are preparing for the annual examinations, a 13-year-old girl is getting ready for her wedding in some obscure village near Madurai. As you enter a new class in June, that girl in all likelihood will be preparing herself for motherhood. Does this sound cruel? Yes, a wicked world exists out there where young girls are forced into marriage not only against their wishes but also in gross violation of the law. Newspapers do report such incidents if some government official or the police intervene and rescue the child from becoming a wife. Yet the practice of child marriage continues unabated.
Sometimes, for the girls the marriages come without warning. A 16-year-old girl was very recently asked by her parents to stand in at the wedding ceremony for her older sister, who backed out at the eleventh hour, stating that she was in love with another man. Since the parents had already invited their guests they did not want to disappoint them, or the bridegroom and his family.
You may ask: What about the feelings of the girl who was asked to step into her older sister’s shoes? What about her aspirations and plans for the future?
Unfortunately, many parents don’t give a thought to the feelings of the daughters. Parents, at times even other relatives, decide on the future of the girl and we are instructed to believe that parents or elders in the family know best what is good for the child.
Really? Isn’t that blind belief among many Indians that has caused the imbroglio in Norway over the custody of two children, about which you may have read in the newspapers or seen it on the news?
If you have not read it, the story goes likes this. Two children, aged one and two, of a young Indian couple living in Stavanger in Norway were taken away by Barnevarne (Norwegian Child Welfare Services) last May and placed in foster care. The parents ran from pillar to post, but the child welfare officers refused to hand over the children to the parents, saying that the children were better off in foster care.
Of course, the incident caused an outrage in India and became a political issue too, prompting the government to approach Norway through diplomatic channels. But the point is that a highly developed country like Norway, which provides cradle-to-grave care for its citizens, has stringent laws that will not allow anyone, even parents, to violate the rights of children in their land. True, the Norwegians bring up their children in a different fashion and fail to appreciate the way Indians bring up their children without compromising on love and care.
But they cracked down on the Indian couple only to ensure what they believed is the restoration of the rights of two children. This kind of will is required among law enforcing agencies to prevent parents from forcing young girls into marriage to suit their own agenda: economic, cultural, social, family or whatever.
Not only is a marriage in which one of the participants is just a child tantamount to violation of child rights, it is something that is rarely spoken of. It is unfortunate that no one views the marriage of a 13-year-old girl to a 30-year-old man, against her wishes, as cruelty.
Of course, I know that you may not bump into a child bride in your normal life. But as privileged children, you have a responsibility to usher in an era in which no girl is forced into marriage. And you have to act fast, as they say that by the time you count to three, a young girl somewhere in the world has been married off against her wishes.