Child marriages in India: Human Rights Violations that go unchecked
Child marriages even when they have cultural and social legitimacy in India are about loss of childhood, neglect, abuse, exploitation and violence. In India child marriages are common, (estimated rate to be 30per cent to 40 per cent) and yet these are not considered as human rights violation of children. They continue as if they are private affairs of families when in fact they are criminal offenses.
There are several studies that have examined early and child marriage in terms of demographic trends, fertility and educational attainment and these have informed policies and programmes to a limited extent. Yet few studies have attempted to understand it from a human rights perspective and the adolescent's perspective. Child marriages have also been only marginally on the agenda of the women's movement or the children's rights movement. Impact of these marriages is more complex than can be readily captured by quantitative studies of number of teenage pregnancies, pre- term births, still births, neonatal deaths, low-birth weight babies, number of years of schooling, school dropouts and secondary school enrollment etc.
The impact of early marriage on wives, husbands, families, girls and boys needs to be studied holistically so that parents and societies may begin to view this practice differently. This paper is based on life stories of 57 women and men whose adolescence and childhood were challenged by child marriage. It looks at their reflections on their own vulnerabilities, also draws from focused group discussions with a cross- section of community from seven States in India and points to a way forward in recognizing the human rights violations of children under guise of culture and tradition.