Sunday February 10 2019
Though outlawed, child marriage persists in Karnataka
Scroll down to also read "Child brides are exposed to higher health risk" and "Child Marriage: Efforts necessary to empower girls"
By Anitha Pailoor DH News Service, Bengaluru
: Teenage mothers in a village in Bagalkot district. (SHAILAJA)
What is an abortion?" Pallavi, 14, sounded curious. The recently betrothed girl was intently listening to Asha, who was a year older than her. Asha had returned to stay with her parents a year after her marriage as her husband complained that she behaved differently and didn't ‘respond' to his needs. This was after Asha had suffered a miscarriage. There were over 30 adolescent girls in the room, all victims of child marriage. A few of them huddled around Pallavi and engaged in a low-pitched conversation. Within minutes, Pallavi stood up and said in a pleading but firm voice, "I want to continue my education. Please do something to stop my marriage. I don't want to have a child so early. Why do the daughters become a burden for the families once they start to menstruate?"
In Tulasigeri, like in any other village of Bagalkot district, girls generally drop out of school after Class 7, only to enter into marriage. Fourteen is the age when their right to education is curtailed, not just because of the physical changes but also due to the lack of availability and access to high school education. As might be expected, Bagalkot is among the 100 districts in the country with a high incidence of child marriage and teenage pregnancy. According to The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2016, one in every six marriages in the state is child marriage. Most child marriages are followed by teenage pregnancy, depriving the girls of basic education and self-reliant life. The survey also indicates that the average number of adolescent mothers in the 14 districts of the state is more than the national average of 7.9%, with Mysuru topping the list at 17%.
Though its prevalence is high in north Karnataka, particularly in the border districts, child marriage persists in all districts both in rural and urban areas. The practice is mostly found in socially and economically disadvantaged communities in rural areas. Poverty, migration, illiteracy, tradition, family pressure and fear of sexual violence are the major causes of early marriages. In most marriages, the groom is in his early 20s and the parents get him married to ensure that he doesn't ‘get into bad habits'.
The situation doesn't seem to have changed even after the state government passed The Prohibition of Child Marriage (Karnataka Amendment) Act 2016, in 2017, which set a precedent by declaring that all marriages of minors are void. "The reason is simple. The rules have not yet been framed to implement the Act. How can the Act be effective without a framework?" Anand B Lobo, a former member of the Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, told DH.
Let alone the Karnataka Amendment, the implementation of The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 (PCMA) has not been effective in the state due to the lack of a proactive approach. There are over 55,000 child marriage prohibition officers (CMPOs) appointed by the State government as directed by the PCMA. From Anganwadi supervisors to deputy commissioner and directors of various state departments, these officers at various levels of the administration have the power to approach the court with injunction order to prevent child marriage, to make it void, and to ensure the safe custody of a child. "They are either not aware of their responsibility or see it as a problem or fear the wrath of fellow villagers if they try preventing a marriage," said G N Sinha, director of REACH organisation, the ChildLine nodal agency in Bagalkot.
While the current CMPOs have to be empowered and sensitised towards the issue, women's rights activists feel that child marriage prevention is now everyone's responsibility but no one is doing the job. They believe that having designated officers who are guided by the judiciary will help address the situation. In Karnataka, ChildLine 1098 Services work closely with the Department of Women and Child Development, police and other government departments and get SOS calls to prevent child marriages rregularly. "We get the maximum number of calls from February to May," said G N Kumar and Shailaja from Bagalkot ChildLine Collab agency.
"Everyone knows about child marriages, but there are no proper preventive measures. We get the information at the eleventh hour and coordination becomes difficult. Moreover, stopping a marriage on the wedding day has social and emotional impacts on the families, particularly on the bride. Convincing them at that time becomes difficult. Most of the times, marriage is organised in one place while the girl would have grown up and studied in another place making it difficult to get age certificates from the authorities," said Shailaja.
Vasudeva Sharma, executive director of Child Rights Trust, said, "We don't have the absolute number of child marriages in the State. The only data available is the number of complaints received or the marriages prevented. Sadly, the administration believes that child marriage is a thing of the past." On the contrary social workers say that 90% of child marriages are solemnised clandestinely within months of their prevention. Still, the government is yet to acknowledge the problem.
: LONG WAY TO GO!
"Many a time, we need to motivate and convince the CMPOs that they are doing the right thing. Many still believe it is not good to stop a marriage as it is like ruining the lives of two persons and the status of their families," Shailaja said. She also narrated incidents of the rescue team being deceived by changing the marriage scene to that of a religious ceremony, showing a slightly older girl as the bride and by producing a fake age certificate. If nothing works, they intimidate the team.
Poor law enforcement
Mass marriages are the preferred occasions for families to get their minor daughters married. After several campaigns, now there have been strict rules to prevent minors from tying the nuptial knot. The organising committee has to get the documents verified and seek the permission of the tahsildar 15 days before the event. But there are several instances of the organisers breaking the rules. The law specifies that the birth certificate or school certificate is the primary document to verify age. No wonder agencies that create fake certificates thrive in the marriage season.
"The minors who are rescued are accommodated in a suitable shelter for a period of three months. Then the child is given to the custody of parents after they pledge that they won't commit the offence again. Those who don't have parental care remain in these homes," said Kumar. Lack of a proper follow-up system makes child marriage prevention efforts futile as officials and activists have precious little knowledge of what happens to the child after the marriage is called off.
The Act directs punishment to the groom who is above 18, and to whoever performs, conducts, directs or abets such a marriage. "But you can count such cases on the fingers of one hand," said Sharma. In Bagalkot, of the 138 complaints received last year, FIR was not filed even in a single case. No one, even the CMPOs who are designated for this, comes forward to register a complaint. A few cases have been registered in some districts where the officials have shown a high level of conviction. But very few cases reach a conclusive stage and even those that do, take a long time. The recent judgement of JMFC Court Yelburga announcing punishment to the groom and the bride's parents is one such rare instance where justice prevailed, but only after six years.
"The Amendment specifies that the police can suo motu register an FIR, but they never do. In many cases, police stations become a place of settlement or reconciliation. I've been a witness in a couple of cases and we lose hope when the hearings stretch for years," said Susheela, a child rights activist and the director of Spandana organisation in Belagavi. Susheela also narrated how witnesses turn hostile after a few years and the victims are coerced to withdraw the case. The child marriage victims in the State are protected under three landmark Acts: Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 and The Prohibition of Child Marriage (Karnataka Amendment) Act 2016. But the administration seems to have failed to put them in perspective to ensure a better life for the daughters of the land. They are not commodities, they have every right to live a dignified and secure life. Are we listening?
‘Will to act, commitment to perform make a difference'
By Justice Shivaraj V Patil
As the chairman of the core committee relating to the prevention of child marriages in Karnataka, appointed by the state government as per the direction of the Bench of the High Court of Karnataka, I had conducted 13 consultation meetings in different district places where child marriages were prevalent. While appreciating the government for passing The Prohibition of Child Marriage (Karnataka Amendment) Act, 2016, which was based on the recommendations made in my report, I suggest to the government that law enforcing agencies are to be activated and suitable directions should be given to make honest and committed efforts to implement the law, and Government orders and policies to prevent child marriages. In addition, wherever and whenever offences are committed, cases must be registered, properly investigated, effectively prosecuted and trials to be completed
In this process, if some persons are covicted and punished, it will act as a deterrent. The framing of rules is important and more useful. However, within existing system work can be carried on. The will to act and commitment to perform can make a great difference. There is a need for cooperative, coordinated and collective efforts of ever vigilant civil society, dedicated NGOs, honest and committed law enforcing agencies, proactive judiciary and meaningful and active media, in preventing child marriages.
Basically, there is a need to change the mindset of the people. People should be made to adopt law emotionally and not merely by the letters of the law. Besides creating awareness among the people, there is a need to sensitise field functionaries for the effective implementation of laws relating to the prevention of child marriages.
Sunday February 10 2019
Child brides are exposed to higher health risksDH News Service
Mala has a hazy memory of how her life metamorphosed overnight: from a 12-year-old taking good care of her siblings into a bride meeting the needs of a hitherto unknown family. She is the victim of ‘Yaadi me Shaadi', a tradition widely practised in the northern districts of the state. Generally, this marriage is arranged within hours of the prospective groom's family visiting the girl's house.
Many a time, the child bride's parents fail to trace her whereabouts after the marriage. The groom's family prefers such a flash marriage when the boy has a questionable character, divorced or physically challenged. Poverty is the main reason for the girl's parents to consent to such an alliance. "Soon after my brother-in-law's divorce case was settled, we, along with a marriage broker, went straight to Mala's house. Though the idea was to meet the family of the prospective bride, it so happened that the wedding took place the same night," recalled Suma.
Lakki was married off early because her parents feared her safety at home when they migrated to cities for six months every year in search of work. Poverty not only deprived Mala of education but also thrust her into a marriage with a divorced and physically challenged person, who was much older than her.
A couple of years have passed by and now she is the mother of a nine-month-old child. "She found it difficult to adjust. I had to guide her from cooking to understanding a man's needs. Now I help her in taking care of the child, too," Suma spoke for Mala who seemed to have gone into her shell. Suma is not fortunate either. At 25, she has a 12-year-old son, and she underwent uterine fibroid surgery last year.
This is one of a host of health problems that early motherhood poses. The haemoglobin level in 90% pregnant adolescents is as low as 7 to 8 g/dL. Miscarriage, postpartum haemorrhage, stunted child, urinary tract infection, white discharge, menstrual and uterine complications are some other risks child brides face. Depression, mental stress and low confidence level are common psychological problems seen in these girls. Violence and unhealthy sexual behaviour from partners puts these young girls at a greater risk of diseases. Take the instance of Lakki (14). When DH met her in a village near Belagavi, she was leading a herd of goats to a grazing site. This three-month pregnant was clueless about staying healthy and safe during this period. All she knew was that her family wants a child soon. More unsettling details unveiled as we engaged in a conversation: she had to undergo an abortion four months ago after a complicated pregnancy and the doctors had strictly advised the couple to delay pregnancy until the girl becomes an adult. "We didn't discuss this at home because we hardly talk to each other," she revealed. Her spouse is in his early twenties and he doesn't find the need for birth control measures as he feels, "The younger the better."
The visibly malnourished Lakki has been issued a card under the state government's ‘Thayi Bhagya Scheme', where the age column declares she is 20. "We don't have a choice. We can't specify a lesser age as it is against the government's policy. We try our best to educate them on the negative impacts impacts of early pregnancy. But it falls on deaf ears because of the social and family pressure on a girl to deliver a baby within a year of marriage," says an accredited social health activist worker. This is a pointer to show how the administration ensures an ‘all-is-well image'.
Manifestation of violence
A sense of anger and resentment overcomes Priya, 18, in Bagalkot, when she shares how her partner cheated her. "It was over one year into the marriage when I realised that he had another wife. I was made to carry out household chores but was not given the rightful place of a wife. During the period, he had taken around Rs 50,000 from my parents citing several reasons." She lives with her parents now and is trying to get back the money. These girls are in a precarious situation as none of the child marriages is registered.
Halavva, in Bagalkot district, was married when she was in Class 5 under pressure from her paternal uncle who wanted to help his sister save money by marrying her four sons at a single ceremony. "I was married to the youngest, who was a high school student," she said. A girl with rare guts and high educational ambition, she returned home one week after she was sent to her in-laws' house. When the family decided to send her again, she fled home to save herself from a ‘marriage of convenience'. The police rescued her and now she lives with her parents on the condition that she is allowed to continue her education. "What makes them believe that marriage brings happiness to their daughters? We wouldn't even know what a marriage is and they make decisions for us," says Anjum, another victim.
"By the time they realise that their daughters are considered as free labour and experience higher levels of violence after marriage, it will be too late. For most of these women, the prime life ends at 30," rued Latha Lobo, a counsellor at SEVAK, an NGO working with early married girls."Deserted, widowed, indisposed, weak adolescent girls are the manifestation of the evils of child marriage."
Sunday February 10 2019
Child Marriage: Efforts necessary to empower girls By Anitha Pailoor
Cycling!' Over 80% of the girls married off young that DH met miss this activity the most. "Whenever I see someone riding a bicycle, I get overwhelmed with a sense of nostalgia. Even after marriage, I used to cycle around the village every time I went to my mother's place until I conceived," Charita said endearingly. She has completed Class 10 and aspires to be a teacher. "I will have to wait for a few years until my child has grown up, but I am hopeful," she says. In the meantime, she is undergoing skill training to channelise her time and abilities in the right manner. She is one of the 3,000 early married girls in the five districts of the state identified by Initiative for Married Adolescent Girls' Empowerment (IMAGE).
The collaborative project is funded by Terre des Hommes, Netherlands and is being implemented in Bagalkot, Belagavi, Bidar, Chamarajanagara and Chikkaballapur districts. The project aims to empower these girls by addressing health and psycho-social issues, facilitating education and skill development, and educating about the legal provisions. While identifying these girls was easier than expected as the numbers were overwhelming, it took about a year for IMAGE to help them get a sense of self, open up about their problems, understand their strengths and start working towards self-reliance.
Several organisations have been engaged in the prevention of child marriages in the past few decades. Apart from stopping the marriages on the spot, they have also guided and motivated children to prevent child marriages by discussing the issue in the Child Rights Grama Sabhas and encouraging children to inform officials of such marriages. But child marriage prevention doesn't seem to have yielded expected results.
Advocates of child rights
Comprehending the limitations of prevention efforts, IMAGE aims to empower married girls to stand up for themselves and to become advocates of child rights. "First and foremost, the government has to admit that child marriage is still prevalent in the state and plan programmes for the effective implementation of the Act. I can't fathom why the government is under the impression that the practice has stopped. Priority should be to plan supportive programmes to follow the recommendation of the Justice Shivaraj V Patil Committee report based on which the Karnataka Amendment was made," said Vasudeva Sharma. Justice Shivaraj V Patil Committee report delves deep into the problems of this practice and has made practical and futuristic suggestions, which with a proper action plan can go a long way in curbing the practice. Department of Women and Child Development sources said that "the rules are being framed and will be ready shortly." Interestingly, all early married girls know that it is illegal to be married before 18 years and maintain that their age is 18, 20 or 21 years. But they do not know why.
The young girls open up only after they are convinced that their age will not be revealed, that no harm will come their way, and the person visiting them is not from the government. This explains the state's paradoxical sex ratio as recorded by Census of India 2011. The sex ratio drops after the age of 12 years from 948 to 940 (12-15) and 904 (16-18), and sees a steep rise (960) in the age group of 19-22 years.
Some children stop schooling after Class 7, whereas a majority drop out after Class 8. The need to walk a long distance to reach school exposes these kids to various problems. Once the parents get a feeling that their daughter's safety is at risk, they don't allow her to go to school. "Marriage remains the sole option for a drop ," said a high school teacher. Though some of the girls continue schooling after marriage they conceive after a few months and are forced to discontinue.
The Right to Education Act entitles a child to free and compulsory education from 6 to 14 years. And most of the children drop out soon after that. "Making education compulsory till PUC, and ensuring easy and safe access to schools are the most important steps in curbing child marriage," believe the activists. Various studies have shown that access to education and child marriage are inversely related. Investing in a child's education might be an important step towards ending child marriage. In addition, experts believe that if adolescent girls and boys are empowered with information about the impacts of early marriage on their physical and mental well-being they will be able to influence their parents to make the right decision. "Higher primary school textbooks should have a chapter on this, along with the provisions of PCMA," Susheela told DH. "The entire society has to be educated about this tangled web. It is linked to many other issues, mainly development and education. The problem can be solved only with a holistic approach and when all the stakeholders act conscientiously," said Raghavendra Bhat of UNICEF branch in Koppal.
A less-studied aspect of child marriage is its impact on development outcomes and economic costs. Early marriage also decreases a woman's productivity and limits the ability to reach her potential. A 2017 report by the International Center for Research on Women and the World Bank estimates that the budget savings of India from ending early childbirths and child marriage that could be achieved in terms of the cost of reaching universal secondary education by that year will amount to nearly $10 billion in 2030.