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Premature knot


 A whopping 10 million currently married men and 35 million currently married women in the northern belt of India were married as children reveals a detailed analysis of the 2011 census data. Topping the list is Rajasthan where almost one third (30 per cent) of the currently married persons were victims of child marriage, a study conducted by Child Rights and You (CRY), an NGO working on children’s rights, has shown. Close on heels is Madhya Pradesh with 26 per cent followed by Uttar Pradesh and Haryana at 21 per cent and 20 per cent respectively. What is even more worrying is that these figures are higher than the national average of 19 per cent. The figures also vastly differ for both men and women, with the latter being married off three times more than that of men. 

Soha Moitra, regional director of CRY, said, "The figures for these northern states are extremely shocking and reflect a huge gap in the system, this despite legislations and enhanced awareness on the issue." Child marriage, Moitra added, is deeply entrenched in patriarchy, poverty and illiteracy and is widely practised under the garb of tradition, culture and protection. Even now child marriages continue to be addressed as a social evil and not seen as a violation of child rights. It not only denies them access to education but also makes young girls vulnerable to abuse and domestic violence. 

The fact that there are several health risks attached to this age-old practice is something that is still not acknowledged seriously. Child marriage culminates into premature pregnancy, often leading to high maternal and infant deaths. There is also a risk of giving birth to low weight babies which in a long term can lead to malnutrition. 

The Census 2011 data also throws light on the number of child marriages in these states and the figures are not encouraging either, reports CRY. Not surprisingly girls constitute more than 65 per cent of the total figure in all the states. UP takes the lead with more than 13.5 lakh child marriages. Shockingly, the district of Ghaziabad, despite being in the National Capital Region (NCR), ranks second in terms of districts with highest number of child marriages. The top districts include Allahabad and Agra. 

In Rajasthan there were close to 7.5 lakh child marriages with both Jaipur and Jodhpur making it to the list of top five districts in the state. MP saw almost 5 lakh child marriages in the state. Both Indore and Bhopal figure in the top five districts with maximum number of child marriages. Faridabad district in Haryana tops the list with maximum child marriages. 

"While the government should ensure stricter implementation of the law (including strengthening registration of births and marriages to establish the age of the child) and prosecution of offenders, it is extremely crucial to influence the behavior and attitude of the communities for a lasting change. Having worked at the grassroot level, we at CRY have witnessed how sensitizing families, engaging with communities and local authorities can bring about a positive impact," Moitra added. 

Disrupted or lack of education is one of the major hurdles in the abolition of child marriage. An out of school child is more likely to be married off quickly. While many children have no access to education even among those with access dropout seems to be a major concern. According to District Information System of Education (DISE) 2013-14, the annual average dropout rate for the country at the primary level is 4.34 per cent. This figure jumped to 18 per cent at the secondary level. Children falling in the 14-18 year bracket are outside the purview of the RTE Act and are, therefore, most prone to dropping out of school. These children in turn become most vulnerable to child marriage, trafficking and child labour, particularly girls. 

 Extending the scope of the RTE Act up to the age of 18 would, therefore, go a long way in ensuring equal education and opportunities for all children besides addressing several challenges that threaten their fundamental rights, felt CRY.