By Sujata B. Shakeel and Anindita D. Choudhury in New Delhi
REMEMBER 14-YEAR-OLD Amina, who was rescued by an airhostess on a Hyderabad- Delhi flight? The girl had been married off to a 60- year- old Arab, who was taking her to Saudi Arabia for a ‘better life’.
The airhostess alerted the police and Amina was rescued. That was in 1991. Seventeen years on, little has changed. Young girls barely into puberty are being married off under the plea of poverty, tradition or merely because they are seen as a “burden” on their families.
Sometimes even the courts uphold the marriage as legitimate because it falls under the purview of certain personal laws. Early this week, the Delhi High Court upheld the provisions of the Muslim Personal Law, to allow Afsana, a minor girl, to “decide her own fate and future”.
“The marriage of a Muslim girl after reaching puberty but before turning 18 is valid because the personal laws to which she is subject permits it,” a division bench of justices Vikramjit Sen and V. K. Shali said. The bench said though there is law against child marriages, as per the Muslim Personal Law, a girl could choose her life partner. But can a13- year- old girl —a girl who has a lot of growing up to do — decide who she wants to marry? Would she have the mental make- up to switch from playing dolls to playing mother? And most importantly, would her marriage be a proper marriage, even if it is performed as per the rituals of her faith, even if the laws of the land consider it as a violation of the rights of the child?
“It is rape,” says Ranjana Kumari, president of Women Power Connect, a women’s rights organisation. “Notwithstanding the fact that the girl has attained puberty, it amounts to violation of the child’s rights and is against the spirit of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006, which prohibits the marriage of girls below 18 and boys below 21.” She says though the court has upheld the Muslim Personal Law, it is in contradiction to the law of the land. “Does it mean that if a girl attains puberty at nine, she should be married off? What happens to her childhood, her body, her mental emotional and physical growth?”
Shantha Sinha, chairperson, National Council for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), says: “We can’t change the personal law, but there should be a universal law which goes beyond religions.” Zoya Hassan, professor, department of political science, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), agrees. “There is a minimum age for marriage and that should be followed irrespective of religion. The most important thing is that there should be compulsory registration of marriages. Once you do that, you also ensure that no one below the minimum age gets married,” she says. That’s often not the case.
‘We need a universal law against child marriages.’
About 70 per cent of India lives in villages where family, caste and community pressures are more important than any law. Akshaya Trithiya is an auspicious day for Hindu marriages. In fact, in some communities, tiny- tots are married off. It is popularly known as ‘Child Marriage Day’ in states such as Rajasthan, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. For child marriages in Muslims, “It the misinterpretation of the Shari’ah by vested interests that is responsible for the backwardness of society,” says Azra Abid, associate professor, department of sociology, Jamia Milia Islamia. “Islam allows a woman to choose her partner. As per Muslim law, girls are considered mature at nine and can get married, but still enjoy a right not to do so,” she says. Personal laws are oppressive towards women, most people MAIL TODAY spoke to, said. Some feel that the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 needs a re-look.
Why? “It does not make child marriages void,” says Sudha Sundararaman, general secretary, All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA). “All child marriages are illegal. In 2006, the amendment to the 1929 Act gave the option to girls below 18 and boys below 21, to go to court and get their marriage annulled. But the marriage remains legal if the child does not come forward with objection,” she says.
It’s a matter of Capital shame
By Rohit Wadhwaney in New Delhi
SOMEWHERE IN the maze of the Walled City’s congested lanes, 14-year-old Neelam hurries through the last round of stapoo (a game played on one leg). Her 25- year- old labourer husband, who she was forced to marry last month, is about to return from work. “I have to go and clean up before he arrives,” says Neelam. In the Khatkiyan area, next to the Delhi Stock Exchange in Old Delhi, marrying off girls at puberty remains the norm. “Girls are married off young not because of custom but so that parents can wash their hands off the responsibility,” says Madhu Meena Dhanawat, an AIDWA activist. Radha Rani, Neelam’s mother, says she is aware that the law prohibits a girl below the age of 18 to marry, “but everyone does it here.”
Child marriages are rampant in Delhi
The situation is the same at Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Colony, a stone’s throw from Connaught Place. Here, there is hardly a girl above the age of 14 who is unmarried. Not many are willing to talk. But 19- year- old Shaheen, who delivered her first child at the age of 15, readily tells us that her daughter Aksa died four months after delivery. She married 23- year- old labourer Mohammed Fahim at the age of 14. “We didn’t know how to take care of a child. I couldn’t breast feed her. She died because of our carelessness.” At 17, Shaheen delivered another child —Anas —who is now two years old. “I take extra care with my son. I won’t be able to forgive myself if anything happens to him,” she says. “It’s tough to manage the home and the kid. Isometimes feel it’s wrong to get married and have a child at such a young age. But such is life.” Dhanawat says child marriages are rampant in several parts of Delhi, but the “government does nothing” to combat the social evil.
Source: Mail Today, New Delhi