Community action against child marriages
By Vidya Kulkarni
In Hipparaga-Rava, one of the villages in Lohara block, almost 43% marriages (12 out of 28 marriages) in 2005 were underage marriages.
Child marriage has far reaching implications for women. It curtails their educational opportunities, affects their health and makes them more vulnerable to domestic violence. This socio-economically backward region of the state is home to many such problems.
Community action was initiated through a discussion with women and adolescent girls prior to sharing it with the larger group. During the interactive sessions, the statistics of early marriage in their village were brought to the notice of school going girls from Grade 8 to 10, who then opened their hearts and said that they did not want to get married before the age of 18. The girls unanimously opted for education and were reluctant to get married soon, especially after they were explained the social and health consequences of early marriage. The girls then took a collective oath not to marry till 18 and also to win their parents’ support by convincing them of their decision.
Kusumbai, barely in her thirties, moved everyone with her story. Kusumbai, who was married while in Grade 3, at the tender age of 9, was determined not to do the same with her daughter. She said she had decided to educate her daughter till Grade 12 before marrying her. In a society where early marriages are the norm, delaying the marriage of a daughter is not appreciated. Kusumbai represented the voice of many, who could not gather courage to voice their feelings.
After the interactive discussions, the men too understood the gravity of the situation and felt that concrete measures were needed against child marriage.
Such participatory discussions through the village planning process have been able to create a consensus to fight social evils like child marriage in the district. Therefore community pressure and awareness rather than legal pressure can play a significant role in preventing it.