Child marriage: The tangled knot

Study reveals that the issue of child marriages is not as simple as one might think; some parents claim it is the only option when children threaten to elope, others maintain that it is ‘ideal’.
Image used for representational purpose only.
Image used for representational purpose only.

HYDERABAD : Every trick in the book has been tried, but child marriages continue to persist in Telangana. According to the National Family Health Survey 2015-16, more than a quarter of women in the state (26.4 per cent) are married off before they turn 18. This, despite the existence of the prohibition of child marriage (PCMA) Act-2006 that criminalises the practice. 

The key, probably, to effectively stop the practice is understanding the reasons behind it. Though popular belief and culture relates child marriages to poverty and lack of education, there are a fleet of other factors that keeps the practice alive, says a new study. These, as per the study, include familial resistance to love and pressure from grandparents.   

The study titled ‘Facing constraints and seizing opportunities: child marriages in Telangana State’ conducted by the Centre for Economic and Social Studies (CESS) lists 25 different reasons that possibly force parents to marry off their children at an early age. Based on a focus group study conducted with 315 respondents, lack of access to secondary education, consanguineous marriages and having many girl children are also major reasons.

A parent, who was part of the study, was quoted as saying, “It has become very common for boys and girls to fall in love at very young age and run away from homes. To protect the family honour, parents are left with no options but to get them married at a young age. In most such cases, girls are 12-15 years of age and boys 15-19 years of age.”“In our community, we usually give landed property and other assets to the groom in the form of dowry. We always prefer groom from our close kin, and marry them off even if the girl has not reached biological maturity,” an elderly was quoted as saying in the report. 

Institutional hindrance 
Apart from issues with the public mindset, legal loopholes also allow the practice to exist. Researchers say one major flaw is the existence of personal law boards for various religions. “Special law prevails over general law. And, in case of child marriages, due to the practice of personal law, intervention is not possible as the culprits always get cover,” said Prof D Balakrishna of NALSAR University. 

However, BR Madhusudhan Rao of Telangana State Legal Services Authority points out that quantum of punishment for child marriages has increased. “It used to be a 15 days simple imprisonment and a fine of `1,000 in the earlier law of 1929. It has now increased to 2 years and `1 lakh fine,” he said while addressing self-help group members, religious leaders, and NGOs.

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