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Girl Child Marriage In Madhya Pradesh -
Impedes Child Rights

By Seema Jain

29 January, 2009

“Choti Si Umar Parnai Re Babo Sa, Kario Tharoo Kain Main Kusoor.” These lines from a song sung during marriages put forth the agony of a child’s heart undergoing a marriage ceremony that as to why was she being married off at such a tender age. Child marriage is one of the worst forms of denials of child rights.

Child marriage, involves either one or both spouses being children. The problem of child marriage in Madhya Pradesh is a complex one because it is related with traditional and religious practices. Compared to boys, girls are severely affected due to this practice of child marriage, due to social & physiological factor.

Madhya Pradesh has large number of teen aged mothers who is suffering with unnameable miseries entailed by the customs of early marriage. This wicked practice of child marriage has destroyed the happiness of children's life. Child marriages continue to be a fairly widespread social evil in Madhya Pradesh, despite a law banning it. The DLHS-3 recorded that 40.5% of boys are married below the age of 21 years and 29.2% of girls aged below 18 were married. The scenario of rural parts in the state is nastiest where about 58.5% women aged 20-24 years got married by the time they are 18 years old.

Among the important reasons cited for the continuance of the practice were: tradition, family and societal pressure, feudal set-up, and poverty. Based on the view that `virginity' is essential in a bride, girls are married off at a very young age, beginning five years. Due to these societal pressure & misconception relating to virginity 34.1% of women in Madhya Pradesh got married in the aged 15-19 years.

Among the districts in Madhya Pradesh, the child marriages is far more rampant in Barwani,Rajgarh, Shajapur & Sheopur districts where about 60% girl child gets married before 18. In these districts more than 50% population is illiterate resulting in sickening poverty. Poor families may regard a young girl as economic burden dew to prevailing custom of dowry marriages. Also they find it so difficult to feed everyone in the family that they prefer to "send off" the daughter as early as possible to some other family. This includes tribal inhabited district of Jhabua & Barwani districts.

Many parents say they are scared to keep their daughters unmarried after puberty as they have a big responsibility of protecting them. As a result, these girls are traumatized by sex and are forced to bear children much before their bodies are fully mature. Child Marriage is one of the most persistent forms of sanctioned sexual abuse of girls and young women. Child marriage not only affects the physical health of the bride, but also her mental and emotional well-being. The DLHS-3 findings further revealed that more than 10% of women aged 15-19 were already mothers or pregnant in about 40 districts of Madhya Pradesh at the time of the survey.

Consequences of Girl Child Marriage

 Child’s education is sacrificed.
 Girls become more vulnerable to domestic violence.
 Early pregnancies weaken the mother.
 Babies born to girls under 17 are 60 percent more likely to die in their first year of life.
 More prone to sexually transmitted disease including HIV/AIDS.

High risk/complication is associated with the teen age pregnancy. Out of the total deliveries in the state, 6.9% of deliveries are having high risk/complication. These complications related to pregnancy & child births often leads to maternal & neo-natal mortalities as the state is having significant shortfall of health institution & manpower to ensure safe motherhood. This is visible by the prevailing high MMR of 397 per lakh live birth as per NFHS-3.

These young mothers simply lack parenting skills. Infants of mothers aged younger than 18 years have a 60 per cent greater chance of dying in the first year of life than those of mothers aged 19 years or older. The infant mortality in the state is dreadfully soaring with IMR of 72/1000 live birth.

Child marriage is often associated with multiple health risks. Premature birth is a common syndrome amongst most young mothers. The premature baby thus born are very often suffers from anemia of different grade. In Madhya Pradesh 74.1% children under 5 experience anemia against the national average of 69.5%.

Secondly, young girls face the risk of infection with sexually transmitted diseases including HIV. An analysis of the HIV epidemic shows that “the prevalence of HIV infection is highest in women aged 15–24.

Early marriage is often linked to low levels of schooling for girls. Due to gender discrimination in the society, girls are not allowed to go to school and remain illiterate; they are compelled to stay at home to do household work and take care of their siblings. DLHS-3 reveals that child marriage has direct bearing on literacy & vice versa. The districts with more than 40% child marriage has less 50% female literacy. Barwani with highest percentage of child marriage (57.5%) has only 31.8% of female literacy.

It is well established fact that educated women are more likely to have a say in decision-making regarding the size of their families and the spacing of their children. They are also likely to be more informed and knowledgeable about contraception and the health care needs of their children.DLHS-3 data for all the districts of Madhya Pradesh show that more than 30 percent of women age 20-24 reported birth of order 2 & above. And these amounts to more then 80% percent for Barwani district. This indicates the high fertility rate in Madhya Pradesh.

The devastating impact of child marriage continues to be ignored in the state depicted by high infant & maternal mortality. Child marriage prolonged violation of the health and development rights of girls and young women.

H. Jackson Brown -Remember that children, marriages, and flower gardens reflect the kind of care they get.”

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