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India: Child Marriage Still Rampant

India: Child Marriage Still Rampant

The archaic practice of child marriage continues unabated in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, despite a Supreme Court directive prohibiting it and a law enacted against the practice as early as 1927, says a new study.

“The proportion of people whose community still practices child marriage is 77.2 percent in Madhya Pradesh, followed by Rajasthan (41 percent) and Uttar Pradesh (10 percent),” says the New Delhi based Centre for Social Research (CSR).

Supported by the National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development, the CSR carried out its study in Jaipur and Tonk in Rajasthan, Shajapur and Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh and Varanasi and Meerut in Uttar Pradesh to assess the prevalence and incidences of child marriage.

“Child marriages contribute to virtually every social problem that keeps India behind in women’s rights. Unless enforcement issues are addressed effectively and awareness regarding existing legal mechanisms are created, problems like soaring birth rates, grinding poverty and malnutrition, high illiteracy and infant mortality, and low life expectancy will continue,” says CSR director Ranjana Kumari.

In Uttar Pradesh, only 12 percent of the respondents were aware that child marriage was illegal.

In contrast, most of the people in Rajasthan (74 percent in Tonk and 98 percent in Jaipur district) were aware about the illegality of child marriage. Also in Madhya Pradesh, 71.2 percent of respondents were aware that the practice was illegal.

In all, 870 people were interviewed. This included child brides and grooms, their families, panchayat members, police, NGOs and district magistrates.

Poverty and economic compulsions, community practices and family traditions emerged as the major causes for continuation of this practice in all the study states.

According to CSR, the consequences of child marriage could have extreme manifestations on the entire life cycle of a woman.

“Nearly 45 percent of all maternal deaths occur among women of age less than 24 years and that 15 percent of these deaths can be attributed to complications associated with child birth and pregnancy,” said Kumari.

The study stressed that there was an urgent need to create more awareness about child marriage, check loopholes in the law and increase the quantum of punishment for those continuing the practice.

“All police officials interviewed in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan said that Child Marriage Prevention Officers (CMPOs) were present in the state but despite that child marriages are still continuing,” said Kumari.

The CSR has recommended that CMPOs be trained to be vigilant and take strict action against the culprits.

Source: IANS – 4 February 2008