In another account in the remote village of Doodiya in Madhya Pradesh, 11-year-old and already married Nikita said, “My uncle’s daughter got married when she turned 5. In fact, I am late.”
And those stories aren’t unique, in fact it is shared by 1.5 million girls in India. As per UNICEF reports, on an average, 27% of girl children in India are married off before their 18th birthday, 7% by the time they are 15. Be it child marriage, education, employment, or the exercise of fundamental rights, India is still lagging behind in gender equality.
One may wonder, why, in spite of regulations like The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, India ranks the highest in the world in the number of child marriages? To answer that, one has to delve deep into the socio-political and economic structure harbored by the country.
“Of all creatures that can feel and think, we women are the worst treated things alive.” – Euripides
A patriarchal mind-set is one of the main reasons for most child marriages in India: young girls, and women in general are perceived to be natural homemakers. Their lives are to be limited within the four walls, as they are unqualified to protect themselves from the dangerous world outside. They need not be educated, nor employed, as they are born to serve and care for the men in the family. When young and unmarried, they are a liability that must be prevented from doing ‘unwomanly’ acts, to avoid bringing shame upon the community. Hence, they must be married off young to withhold family honour, sometimes even to men twice their age. This heinous practice has notably has caused deaths in married girls aged 15-19 due to premature pregnancies. The girls run the risk of contracting HIV, and their children, if born, suffer from low immunity, many of them dying in infancy. Several girls, in such a condition, are exposed to sexual abuse, and suffer from post-traumatic stress.