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Should Child marriage be a punishable offence ?

Child Marriage and its Social-economic Aspects

Child marriage is a social phenomenon practiced in some of the communities/regions where girls/boys marry before legal age at marriage. The global data suggests that more than one third of women aged 20-24 were married or in union before they reached 18 years of age as per UNICEF's report- The State of the World's Children 2006. It may not be astounding to note that approximately 40 percent of girls are married before the legal age of marriage (18 years) in the state of Bihar and West Bengal.
 
Child marriages are manifested by multiple factors which can be broadly classified as socio-cultural, economic and religious factors. The key issues which have linkages with child marriage include education, rural-urban divide, caste/ethnicity and economic status of the family. However, these factors do not determine the women's age at marriage independently; rather these factors are interrelated and produce a collective effect to determine the women's age at marriage. For example, people of certain caste/ethnic groups who belong to relatively low social position in local caste hierarchy are generally deprived in economic terms as well. The poor socio-economic status leads to poor access to education and subsequently less economic opportunities. Poverty supplements the problem and in order to support the family even minors are drawn in to earn. This deprives the minor from educational and other career opportunities subsequently resulting in early marriage. This vicious circle continues in the next generations as well.
 
It doesn't end here; there are other factors which contribute to the menace and make it even more complex to intervene. In countries like India, there are traditions such as dowry where parents of the young woman are obliged to give gifts to the spouse and his family, and the amount of dowry increases in proportion with age and education of the girl child. This is one of the major reasons for marrying girls at a young age as this helps in plummeting the burden of dowry. Therefore, Child marriage is valued as an economic coping strategy which reduces the costs of raising daughters.
 
Traditional practices particularly in certain selected districts of Rajasthan, India also contribute to the problem of Child marriage. On the auspicious day of Akha Teej, the mass solemnization of marriages between young boys and girls is performed. From the parents’ point of view, this is the tried and tested way of organizing the passing on of property and wealth within the family. It is intimidating to note that a small but significant proportion of the children involved are under age 10, and some are mere toddlers of two or three-years-old.
 
This is a just the tip of an iceberg and this issue is much larger than what is written above; we hope that we can put an end to this practice in the near future.