According to the UNICEF Report of 2012, in India 47% of girls use to get married before the age of 10 and the average age of maternity is from 15 to 19 years old. As a matter of fact, pregnancy is consistently among the leading causes of death for girls ages 15 to 19 worldwide.
Moreover, girls who become pregnant under the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women who give birth in their 20s.For istance, around 2 million women worldwide suffer from obstetric fistula, a debilitating complication of childbirth especially common among physically immature girls.
At this point the fundamental question is: why must I be a good wife and mother, if I am still a baby?
Broadly speaking,child marriage leads to other social problems that require specific solutions. The most remarkable are:
1. An insufficient level of education, for both girls and boys. That because younger spouses are frequently forced to drop out after marriage.
2. The impossibility of having a good job (considering the lack of education), that cause a significant increase of the rate of poverty. Generally, child brides are more likely to come from a poor family and once married, are more likely to continue living in poverty.
3. A deeply marginalization and social exclusion of the lower people, that emphasize the cast system, nowadays still present in India.
4. A higher incidence of domestic violence, marital abuse (including physical, sexual or psychological abuse) and abandonment.The International Center for Research on Women conducted a study in India and found that girls who were married before 18 were twice as likely to report being beaten, slapped or threatened by their husbands than girls who married later.
Having said that, it results evident that it is almost impossible to save the present generation of children from child marriage practice, mostly because this phenomenon is considered normal and necessary, especially in rural area. There is not awareness about the negative impact that it has on children. Also for this reason, parents tend to not only promote it but also to defend it from every attempt of change.
The “values” strictly linked to child marriage refer to the cultural and economic issues underlying that practice. Young girls are married off according to dominant beliefs about preserving women’s “honour”, as well as the costs of raising girls. Child marriage could be relate to people trafficking in extreme situations. In the majority of the cases, it maintains the status quo in poor and underdeveloped areas, where economic deprivation is used to justify men’s dominance over women.
Biswajit Ghosh, a famous Indian sociologist, conducted fieldwork in Malda district of North Bengal (India). Then he pointed out that in rural areas, communities tend to have limited access to quality education and to basic infrastructure. Specificly, in Malda, it is problematic to send children to school, even though younger people show a strong interest in their education. Furthermore, poverty and lack of infrastructure serve to maintain the belief that education is worthless because young’s education delays marriage and so it is construed as negatively impacting society’s welfare.
Ghosh surveyed around 380 fathers, mothers, elders and girls in Malda. He discovered that 90% of parents and elders believe that marriage is “essential for girls,” primarily because they fear girls might elope without proper permission, as well as their concern about girls’ economic and social protection. So, it appears clear that preserving a young girl’s honour before marriage is central to the ideal which priorities marriage over education.
Even in “our modern area”, caste system is the main factor that complicates education interventions to defeat child marriage. According to Ghosh, girls from upper families are able to delay marriage as they focus on education, but the girls, who come from poorer families, have less bargaining power with their parents. Often it happens that a girls would like to reach high level of education but this has a negative effect of excluding her from most marriage prospects because young men, who are less learned, required a poor dowry that reflected negatively on the girl’s family. On the other hand, young men who could match the girl’s level of education required too high a dowry. Once again, it seems that, at social level, the lack of employment opportunities for women, and the material reality faced by poor communities convert early marriage is a source of protection.
The sociology identifies that many community members had been in contact with international aid workers who had explained the main issues associated with child marriage. Besides in several cases, locals knew it was illegal to organise the marriage of a young girl. Althoug that, child marriage is still spread in the area. This is one of the reason why Ghosh personally believe that legal sanctions and international campaigns to end up the child marriage practice are dismissed, above all at the local level, since they do not connect directly to people’s material experiences. He claims that: “such campaigns are not taken seriously and knowledge about the negative consequences of early marriage is underplayed as ‘aberrations’ as many of the existing mothers were married much early. Experience of these mothers seems to create a moral basis for marrying their daughters early. Hence, the logic of late marriage propagated by health workers and others do not produce any visible results”.
In order to eliminate child marriage, communities need to be shown practical demonstrations that delaying marriage increases everyone’s welfare.
The United Nations purpose to totally defeat child marriage by 2030,international agencies often focus on raising community awareness on the legalities and health benefits of education, but this approach has a limited impact, as information campaigns about education, do not match the material and cultural reality of local communities. For example, in the Indian district of West Bengal, problems in organising effective delivery of education and tangible employment outcomes only provides more credence to religious and community elders, who argue that marriage undermines society.
A concert a change can occur, if and only if, international agencies, national governments and local grassroots groups start to work together, adopting practical strategies.
It is a sort of duty understanding that the tensions between girls’ right to education versus their obligation to marry is not simply about “gender question”.Sure enough, the lack of access to quality education makes it difficult to invest in resources that are already lacking into sending girls away to attend school in other regions. In this setting, economic necessity and cultural habits about family honour and protection overtake the civil law, which establishes that child marriage is illegal.
To sum up, ending child marriage clearly requires stronger efforts from all the world. Moreover, addressing poverty is critical. Poorer communities need to see concrete examples that developments projects lead to benefits, like for example a “normal job”, that increase everyone’s quality of life.For better clarifying this conclusion, I would like to say that through improved education system, schools can become a vehicle for delaying child marriage. Likewise, providing regular training sessions for parents and community leaders would help generate further support. But schools must be supported in the development of tangible skills, linked to the social – economic contest of each child.
WASH & Intern coordinator