The recent Supreme Court ruling that sex with a minor wife amounts to rape, could be a huge relief for underage girls in Rajasthan, where 6.3 per cent of the total women population between 15 and 19 years are already mothers or been pregnant.
According to the 2011 Census, 31.6 per cent of girls in Rajasthan were married before the age of 18. A more recent survey by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) 2015-16 pointed to an even higher number, with 35.4 percent of girls aged between 20 and 24 years getting married before attaining the legal age.
Rajasthan, which has the highest cases of child marriage in the country, reported at least 366 divorcees between 10 and 14 years. The report also points out that there are 3,506 ‘widowed’ and 2,855 ‘separated’ children within the same age group.
NFHS-4 figures show that more men are married before they attain the legal age of 21as compared to women. According to the report, 35.7 per cent of men (25-29 years) got married before they turned 21.
Even though the percentage of minors who are already mothers or pregnant has come down from 16 per cent to 6.3 per cent in the past 10 years, the state still has a long way to go as the practice is deeply entrenched in peoples’ minds. It is common to get children married on designated auspicious days. The state also has a tradition of attasatta or exchange of brides.
There is also a tradition called Nyas when a member of a family dies, the family members get their children married within 13 days of death to ensure peace for the departing sould. In 2016, the directorate of women empowerment, depart ment of women and child development launched a joint campaign Sanjha Abhiyan to address the issue of child marriage.
“The state strategic action plan developed by the state government has shown results with girls getting opportunities to complete their education and realise their aspirations in life,” said United Nations Population Fund state programme co-ordinator Sunil Thomas Jacob.
Activist hails Supreme Court order
Riti Bharti of Saarthi Trust, who has been instrumental in annulling the child marriages in Rajasthan, particularly in the western part of the state, has hailed the decision and termed it as a major decision in combating the menace and a gift for activists on the International Day of the Girl Child. She has to her credit all the 33 cases reported in the matter so far. “During my mission to annul child marriages from 2012, I have come across two such cases, where minor girls were sexually abused by their husbands. But since no such law existed then, they had to suffer the trauma and the husbands let off scot-free,” said Bharti. Last year, she was approached by a girl who got married at the age of 15 and sent to her husband. “The girl objected to sex, but her husband and others in the family refused to relent. The shocking part was that even her mother refused to help or support her, terming it `normal’,” said Kirti. Unable to bear the pain, she finally approached Bharti for annulment .
Source: Times of India