Child marriage is a major sociological problem that has persisted for centuries in India. The early marriage of children, particularly of the girl child, is not an uncommon practice in over many countries. In India the latest assessment is that 44% are married before the age of 18 years because of religious traditions, social practices, economic factors and blind beliefs. It is considered as a violation of child and human rights and it affects the child physically, psychologically and emotionally. Marriage is considered ‘safe’ to protect the girl from unwanted sexual advances. Child marriages also limited girls’ access to education and increased their health risks. Early pregnancy and childbirth would impact on the overall health and development of girls.
A case study was carried out in 10 villages of Rajasthan about the practice of child marriage. Villages near urban centers showed more progress in terms of economic status of the villagers, literacy levels and in particular the level of awareness regarding illegality of child marriage. Child marriage was also lower in these villages. But the rural villagers are different. Joint family system is a common feature of rural society. The traditional value system upholds traditional norms.
Twelve couples were identified and interviewed for the study. The study found low literacy levels among the respondents. One- third of the respondents at the state level were illiterate and only 8% were graduates, while one-fourth had educational skills up to the primary level. The low level of literacy and high prevalence of child marriage could be seen as a vicious circle. An early marriage limits the opportunities for education and self-development, whereas lack of education results in a stubborn mindset and ignorance of the ill effects of child marriage.
A typical feature of the child marriage practice in Rajasthan is that after the marriage ceremony the bride is not usually sent to her in-law’s house immediately. She will be sent usually when the girl is considered mature enough to handle the household chores, which is generally considered to be after she attains puberty. Also over 50% of the respondents admitted that the practice of child marriage was followed in their families. Moreover, the parent-child relationship is such that a child rarely questions the authority of the parents in taking decisions about his or her life. More than 50% of the respondents in Rajasthan who have undergone child marriage stated that they were forced to marry. A large proportion of respondents who had themselves undergone marriage as children were against the idea of child marriage. But there are some among them who supported the idea.
In Rajasthan, most of the male respondents agreed with the legal age as the right age for a male to marry, but some felt that early marriage was advisable. About one-fourth of the male population who themselves were married early held this view. Interestingly, all female respondents believed that males should marry only after they were 21 years. About three-fourths of the male respondents believed that girls should marry after reaching the legal age. The study also shows that poverty and safety of the girl child are also the causes for the continuation of the practice of child marriage.
The practice of child marriage in the study areas is characterized by the fact that both the bride and the groom are underage, sometimes as young as five or six years old. This aspect of early marriages is unlike that in some other parts of India and the world where a huge age difference exists between the two, with the girl usually being the child. Existing laws and awareness campaigns taken up periodically against the practice of child marriage have failed to diminish the fervor of the communities even in the 21st century.