I have always considered myself lucky to live in Malaysia in this present time. I would hate to be in my mother’s shoes. This is not due to the lack of modern conveniences like the Internet, mobile phones, and so forth. My disinclination arises from the fact that back then, the idea of an educated female was considered absurd by many. While parents spent a lot of effort to educate their son(s) properly, the only education their daughter(s) received was how to do house chores well.
Sadly, this mentality still exists in certain parts of the world. Take India for example. In the impoverished rural areas, Indian girls are seen as useless chattel. Destitute girls below 15 are forced to marry; sometimes to somebody who is old enough to be a grandfather to the poor lass. What a horrifying and depressing thought!
Child Marriages in India
By H. Sung (16 years old)
While most teenage girls are basking in the love of their family, Indian girls from poor families are forced to marry before the age of 15. 40 percent of the world’s child marriages occur in India with 6.4 million Indian girls married under the age of 18.
Rita was married off at 12, gave birth at 14 and divorced by 16. A widow or a divorcee is considered unlucky, useless and is shunned by family members and society alike. Through no fault of hers, Rita is regarded as undesirable, abandoned by her family and ostracized by her community. Having to raise her child completely on her own, she will most likely remain alone and unmarried. Whereas a normal teen is just beginning to blossom, Rita’s prospects are dead. Should she bemoan fate, her parents’ absolute control over her life or the deeply entrenched cultural beliefs?
Being pushed into a marriage at an early age, the girls are taken out of school to live with their husbands where they are used as free labor, sex objects and procreative machines. The teenagers’ health is put at risk as they are much more vulnerable than mature women when it comes to sexually transmitted diseases. To further aggravate the situation, sex predators are imbued with the belief that having sex with a virgin can cure sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS. Chetram, 56 gleefully boasted of marrying six girls to date, all between the ages of eight and 16 years. He should be hailed as grandfather by his underaged wives instead.
Indian child marriages began as early as 500 BC during the Vedic Era. Vedic sexual prudery dictated a girl should marry at 11 or thereabouts, just on the verge of puberty. Why? The self-righteous male populace believed that women were naturally promiscuous and unfaithful. Hence marrying a pre-adolescent was the only way they could ensure a virgin bride. After more than two millenniums, why are girls still being married off before they have enjoyed growing up as normal teens?
Despite the Child Marriage Restraint Act in 1978 setting 18 as the minimum age for women to get married and 21 for men, it does not make registration of marriages compulsory. Merely passing a law has not done the slightest good when child marriages are accepted by the majority of Indian society, especially in the poor rural areas of Northern India. Political leaders and government officials further condone legitimacy to the practice by attending wedding ceremonies to bless newly-married couples.
Rural poverty puts pressure on families to transfer the economic cost of a daughter to another family as early as possible. The fact that in India a female traditionally leaves her natal family and becomes a formal part of her husband’s family after marriage means that to the traditional Indian family, a girl is a useless burden. Every penny spent in educating, feeding and clothing her is a waste because ultimately she is going to be given away to another family, which will glean the benefits. Another advantage of child marriages for poor people is that it is cheaper for the family than adult marriages because a child marriage does not need to be as prestigious and costly as an adult marriage.
Unless the Indian government makes child marriage a crime and metes out severe punishment to offenders, the plight of the impoverished women is not likely to improve any time soon. Being illiterate, destitute, unemployable, with nowhere to go and probably with several children to fend for, they will remain a spurned sect of the Indian society .
Too Young to Wed (National Geographic Live!)