Let Me Grow Up! The Devastating Impact of Child Marriage on Girls

Fri, 10/13/2017 - 01:34

It’s been eleven years since the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (2006) came to being. And it’s been way longer than that, over 80 years, since the Child Marriage Restraint Act (1929) was put in place. Yet, there still are innumerable little girls suffering at the hands of this evil. A recent survey reveals that there are almost 12 million married children, under the age of 10. And about 65% of them, close to 7.58 million, are girls. At an age where children should be going to school, learning, and having fun, these young ones are put through an ordeal that is hard to fathom. With the responsibility of caring for the family, and the burden of bearing children loaded upon them, childhood is just a far-fetched dream.
More often than not, these children, especially the young girls are victims of domestic violence, dowry demands, sexual abuse, mental harassment, and a lot more. They are cut off from education, and do not have a chance for personal growth. They are deprived of proper nutrition, health care, and psychological comfort. All this leads to the poor health conditions of these children and the neglect that they face at the hands of their in-laws does nothing to improve the situation.
Another cause of major concern is pregnancy related to child marriage. A girl is not physically or mentally prepared to having kids when she is a mere teenager. Furthermore, it leads to many subsequent problems. The use of contraception is not as prevalent as it should be. Almost 25% of the girls end up bearing the first child within a year of the marriage. About 17.3% girls reported that they had three more children within the next few years. The result of these frequent and repeated child births is often maternal death, or terminated pregnancy (stillbirths, or miscarriages). All these have a huge impact on the physical as well as mental health of the mother as well as the child. The child born is weak, underweight, and does not have high life expectancy. Most children born to girls below the age of 18 die within one year. And those who survive are victims of low birth weight, malnutrition, and late physical and cognitive development.
Researchers all around the world claim that children who get married before the age of 18 are very likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorders. With a 41% increased risk of mental disorder, child marriage should be considered a major psychological trauma. And yet, child marriage prevails. While some states have seen a decline in child marriage, it is still rampant in states like Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh.
But as they say, every cloud has a silver lining. Just recently, a court in Rajasthan annulled the marriage of Sushila, 18. She had been married off at the tender age of 12. She did have the opportunity to attend school until last year, when her parents stopped sending her to school to prepare her for the ‘gauna’ ceremony (associated with the consummation of marriage). When all her pleas to annul the marriage fell on deaf ears, she escaped from her house the night before the ceremony and was living in a shelter home for about 15 months. It was after this that she was approached by Kriti Bharti of Saarthi Trust, and was lodged safely in a child care home. It was with the help of Saarthi Trust that Sushila could finally appear before the court to plead an annulment. And providing a ray of hope to many others, Sushila escaped the bondages of her child marriage.
It is incidents like this that instil hope in us that the child marriage scenario can be bettered in the country. Success is a long way to come yet, with the help of proper implementation of laws, strict policing, support from NGOs, and creating enough awareness, we can all do our bit in cleaning our society of this evil and brightening up the lives of many innocent little souls.

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