JAIPUR: Girls in Rajasthan are now standing up for their own rights after various governments in the state failed to curb child marriages. These girls are rebelling against society, panchayats and castes to win their battle in Rajasthan which has the highest number of cancelled child marriages in the country.
In a moving story on Monday, a 15-year-old girl arrived with her uncle in Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot's public hearing. The girl from Tonk district is a student of class 10 who pleaded to the CM to stop her child marriage. She said that her mother had died and now her father wants to get her married.
"After her mother died due to complications during pregnancy, I have been taken care of her but now her father wants to get her married against her will and she wants to pursue her studies. We met the CM and have asked for his help," said her uncle.
After meeting the teenager, Gehlot instructed the Tonk Collector and the SP to stop her child marriage. Collector KK Sharma said that the family members have been warned. According to the National Family Health Survey, 26.8 per cent of girls in India are married off before the legal age of 18. The percentage increases in Rajasthan and touches 35.
However, in the total 43 cancelled child marriages in India, 40 are from Rajasthan. The prime credit for this goes to Jodhpur-based Saarthi Trust’s, Kriti Bharti who has saved all these girls by interventions of the court.
But for Barmer district’s Sanju, getting her marriage cancelled was not easy. She was married off at the age of 12 and when she turned about 17, her ‘Gauna’ was planned. But she rejected the idea and asked for her child marriage to be cancelled. She was beaten and locked in a room. Later, she was rescued by Kriti Bharti and her marriage was annulled in Jodhpur court later.
In 1920, Sharda Act was brought in to stop child marriages which were further amended in 2006 as Prohibition of child marriage act. But while the punishment was made severe, the implementation of the law has been poor, and social organization claim because of the governments laid back mindset child marriages have continuously risen over the last few years in India. When it comes to child marriages, Rajasthan features in top states in the country.
According to a UNICEF report, 223 lakh child marriages happen in the country every year of which 15 lakh take place in Rajasthan. But Kriti says that the situation is much worse than the figures suggest. “Government says that they have been able to put a stop on child marriages but that is not true and these figures are all wrong. Most of the marriages are done after changing the dates, so no one comes to know the reality”, she adds. She further states that "it has been close to 100 years since child marriages were banned in India but even after spending crores every year, we have not been able to put a stop on it."
In 2006, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act was made which made child marriage offence as non-bailable and cognizance. There was a provision for 2-year jail and 1 lakh Rupees penalty. But still people are not apprehensive, in fact, these crimes are increasing.
"This is because it is not seen as a crime , but a ritual. The government has left the work for us NGOs. Why shouldn’t they make an effort, we find it so difficult to stop these marriages as everyone stands against us. Shouldn’t someone care about the girls who are married off like this ?”, asked Kriti. "Kriti adds that girls in the state are now taking the initiative to call off their child marriages as they don't get much support from the administration," she concludes.