What a sad practice! I first became aware of the severity of this social problem a couple of months ago when I heard a female public radio reporter talking about these girls who became child brides. UNICEF reported that about 10 million girls a years, under the age of 18, are married off by their relatives. South Africa's Archbishop, Desmond Tutu, said it best when he stated that it is a "practice that robs millions of girls of their childhood, their rights and their dignity."
Unfortunately, 40% of child marriages occur in India. First all, it is illegal. A fine of Rs 100,000 (1300 pounds) and 2 years in prison can be handed out by a judge to anyone who is involved in the process or fails to prevent it. In many remote Indian villages few would report these marriages since many, unfortunately, support this practice. Many children are married very young when they are 2-11 years old, but they do not live together until they are 15 to 16.
The BBC reporter, Nel Hedayat, told the story of Rukmani, who married at 6 and lived with her husband at 15. She is 26 and has 2 children. Rukhmani said, "Had I been married later, I'd learned to read and write. If I'd studied, I wouldn't have had to work in the scorching heat, harvesting in the fields." What a waste of this young life! She could have been a doctor, teacher or other professional. By not educating youth, these countries increase their poverty rates. Families lose income when their daughters do not learn skills, so that they can bring in additional income into their households.
They become dependent completely on the husband and his family, which allows the husband's family to have so much control over the daughter that abusive behavior become the "norm" in the household. Mamta, another child bride, became so dependent that she felt "she had no option but to endure regular beatings from her husband." An International Center for Research on Women's study reported that, "Girls in some Indian states, who were married before 18, were twice as likely to report being beaten, slapped or threatened by their husbands than girls who married later."
Some countries and non-profits are starting to offer free education to youth to keep them in school. Bangladesh has a garment industry where teens can earn a higher wage, and, thus, avoid having to endure a child marriage. Not all villages and towns have these options available for youth, so enforcement remains a big key to stopping the practice.
Another problem which develops from child marriage is a high pregnancy death rate. Child brides have a double pregnancy death rate compared with women in their 20s. It is the leading cause of death in developing countries for girls between the ages of 15 to 19.
Sometimes those enforcing the law get attacked or killed. A welfare (anganwad) center supervisor in Madhya Pradesh was attacked when she tried to prevent 3 young girls from being married off in a mass ceremony. She asked for proof of the girls' ages but was forced to leave when she was threatened by the family. Later someone wielding a sword came to her house and began slashing at her. A nine-hour operation was performed to re-attach her hand, which was sliced by the assailant. The Chief Minister, Babulal Gaur, stated, "no serious action" would be taken towards those who conduct child marriages. He said, "Social customs are stronger than laws." A woman was seriously attacked and injured and nothing happened to her attacker. This is not right. No wonder people keep carrying on such barbaric practies. This another example of corruption in India which needs to stop. It should be a nation of laws, not social customs.
All this is in contrast to the Vedic Principles and spiritual values practiced in the Vedic Period, a more matriarchial era. This period was at the height of India's greatness and prosperity for good reasons: they valued their women and treated them well. All marriages were performed when children were adults. A girls' consent was always sought and expected. In fact she chose her own husband in a special ceremony. This happened until the 7th Century A.D., when more patriarchial practices occurred. With invasions women were carried off as war booty and so early marriage was encouraged to provide protection. It became a custom, even though, over time, invasions ceased. Some parents found it difficult to feed everyone because of poverty, so they tried to marry their daughters off to cut down on the number of mouths they needed to feed. Rajeev Gupta, Professor of Sociology at Rajasthan University, says there is another reason, "The oppressed classes and castes, with encouragement of the landed castes, emulate this feudal social practice as it ensures them a source of cheap labour. It is in the interest of the dominant classes to keep this system going." It is the greedy, wealthy moneyed interests, which have destroyed the rights of women and girls in India.
The answer is for India to go back to its matriarchial roots. Gandhi encouraged Harbilas Sarda to introduce the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929. He viewed child marriage as undesireable. He was married at a young age and understood the problems his wife went through bearing children.
Some children are saying "no" to child marriage with the help of their school teachers. Rekha Kalindi, who was 13 at the time, said "no." Her parents with held food for 2 weeks from their daughter. This would be considered child abuse and neglect in the USA. Her school teachers, classmates and governmental officials went to her parents' home to convince them to change their minds. It worked, she did not have to marry and she is attending school. So social pressure does work if you get a large enough group of people together to combat these horrid practices.
When more girls receive education, child marriages will decrease. Many of the parents later were happy to find out that their daughters brought in income into the household. They were not so likely to be in favor of their daughters marrying young when they received much more household income with an educated daughter. They became more prosperous because they changed their practice.
Few pandits, priests and teachers talk about this issue. It is good to use your moral authority and speak about this concern. This is what a spiritual leader does: he or she creates a new, great vision around people and motivates people to change for the good of all.
I encourage you to contact the charities and non-profits you donate to and encourage them to set up scholarship money for female education, the building and maintenance of schools and social centers where information can be encouraged on the issue. In the one case teachers, staff and governmental officials convinced the parents to change course from marriage to education. In the other case government officials failed to do the right thing. As Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world!"
Patriarchy has been a negative influence in modern India and in many developing and developed nations of the world. Lucinda Marshall, Feminist Peace Network Director and Occupy Patriarchy co-author had this to say about the monied interests, "Wall Street is a manifestation and symbol of the much larger problem of patriarchial control and power and depends in large part on the exploitation, subjugation and control of women. If you want to occupy Wall Street in a meaningful way, we also need to confront the issue of patriarchy."
The secret of India's future lies in the education of women and girls. As women and girls are educated, they have smaller families, decreasing poverty. This goes gack to the ancient Vedic Principles of Matriarchy. Some day the matriarchy will come back to India; little by little, oppression will end! India was most likely the cradle of matriarchy. So ironic it adopted these patriarchial practices. The true Vedic Philosophy of the Matriarchy will come back again. Let's Occupy Patriarchy!
JAI SHRI MA! JAI SHRI MATRIARCHY! JAI SHRI GIRLS!