Despite the establishment of the Prohibition of Child Marriages Act in 2006, 41% of girls in the state of Rajasthan, India, still continue to be married off before they even turn 18, let alone hit puberty.
This makes it contradictory for the government making such a huge fuss over Balika Vadhu, saying the TV soap is "unconstitutional" as it depicts child marriages. Why? Because child marriages are an everyday reality, and nobody seems to be doing anything about it.
The main reason seems to be of security for daughters - for their futures and for monetary purposes. Parents also seem to fear that their daughters will be tougher and more "expensive" to marry off when they are older. They also fear if their daughters are educated, it will be harder for them to find an equally educated mate in the future. In other words, they want to secure the girls' positions being the subordinate group of society.
In India, thousands of children as young as 6 are being married off. Being as young and innocent as they are, they don't understand the issue. But then again, how could they understand? They haven't even been given the chance to learn about these issues.
Many of these girls are forced to bear children once they mature, which poses danger to their bodies. The issue of how their husbands treat them is not spoken of either - just because it is a norm little girls have to go through. Many would also expect to serve their in-laws, doing the cooking and cleaning - like a maid.
12-year-old Mamta Khumhar still doesn't get the reality of her marriage as she's still mesmerized by her "wedding gift" - a new watch. "I like to wear it all day," she says. Mamta, who lives in Bhojpura village near Jaipur, and her sisters Sunita and Rekha, both 11, were married off along with their 16-year-old cousin Asha.
"Here even little girls in their mothers' arms are married off," Asha said. She is aware that education is her only way out: "If we had studied, if schools were nearer our house, maybe we could have resisted."
In the village of Kachoulia in Tonk, it seems that almost every child you meet is "married".
An 11-year-old Kavita Yadav was married off at a mass wedding ceremony last month. "At the shaadi sammellan (mass marriage), I had to pay just Rs 18,000 for the ceremony," said Kavita's father Jagdish Mohan. "I am a poor farmer, if I had married her later, it would have cost me much more."
In Rajasthan's "caste-ridden" and conservative society, child marriages are a way of "securing" a girl's virginity. Jansilal, a resident of Kachoulia, says people aren't necessarily unaware of the legal age of marriage; nor are they unaware that child marriages can affect a girl's health. It's rather the issue of a girl getting education, which makes her want a more educated boy, which is a rarity.
In an effort to curb child marriage, administrators do conduct drives to catch offenders, although it doesn't seem to achieve anything. All efforts seem to be weak, as even someone like Kamla Prajapat - an Anganwadi worker who's supposed to convince villagers about the cruelty of child marriage - has married off his own daughter at 15.
His excuse is: "If I try to stop a marriage, they will arrange it elsewhere. That's the trend."
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