The aspect of child marriages is common among the Muslim communities especially among those living in South Asia and sub- Saharan Africa. Early marriage entails the marriage of children and young people who are below the age of 18 years. It is, however, predominant among those living traditional lifestyles especially in the rural areas.
There are various reasons why parents may opt to marry their children while they are still very young, for instance, poverty where parents view marriage as an opportunity for the young girl and her family at large as a source of protection against sexual assault and unwanted pregnancies among others. This paper discusses early marriages through a case study of an ethnic group in India, the Shaikh of the Rajasthan community.
The Shaikh of Rajasthan is a constituent of the larger Shaikh community present in South Asia. It is the largest Muslim community in Rajasthan. The Shaikh community faces adverse effects of child marriages in addition to parallel cousin and cross-cousin marriages as it is being practiced to great extent. There have been many incidents of child marriages among this community for instance a marriage occurred between a five-year-old girl and a ten-year-old boy in the community.
Other child marriages have also been witnessed. These two victims are far below the adult age as they should be at least eighteen years for the girl and twenty one years of age for the boy. The laws enacted in regard to marriages especially on child marriages seem ineffective due to the contradicting customs among the Muslim communities for example the prevention of Child Marriages Act.
There have been instances where people come to homesteads and demand for girls who are underage stating that they want to marry them. Most of the people get married when they are too young without the knowledge of what marriage really entails.
Most communities other than the Shaikh also practice child marriages especially days that are deemed to be of religious importance for example the Dev Uthni Ekadashi.
The practice of child marriage continue to take place among the communities due absence of political will as some politicians view their actions of restricting the practice as a threat to their political prosperity. They fear their stand could make them lose votes and support from the people who value and appreciate the practice and would do anything to safeguard its existence.
The practice of child marriages among the Shaikh and the Rajasthan community at large has been exacerbated by the government’s reluctance in preventing it and to make the matter worst, it seems to be very supportive of the same. This can be seen from its attempt to register all marriages including the child marriages.
This action raises heated debate among citizens of India and also outside the country as many people who are against early or child marriages can not comprehend the reason behind its registration.
The government fights back by saying that the registration of such marriages does not mean their legalization but instead it is a positive step towards keeping a record of the number of the existing marriages of such kind for easy detection.
The Child marriage Prevention Act also seem to be ineffective as it does not provide for punishment of individuals and parents who plan and advocate for child marriages. This makes it more comfortable to execute this practice as those involved do not fear the legal consequences that may befall them as a result of their actions (Mahan 1).
The concept of child marriage in the Indian communities has been promoted by the Indian culture which places women in very low status and their roles in the family institution stipulate they should be submissive and be good wives to their husbands.
They do not have many rights like men. Early marriages are a major cause of increased population in the community as the young people add to the number of people through child bearing (India planning commission 51).
Child marriages also deny the victims their childhood and adolescence as they experience sexual relationships very early in life hence lacking freedom. This leads to poor performances in marriage and in general life of the victims as their social development is interfered with.
The girls that get married during their early age also do not pursue their education and hence they become incompetent in various aspects of life like critical decision making. There is also some health issues associated with child marriages, for instance, sexually transmitted diseases and premature pregnancies that lead to high rates of maternal and infant mortality.
Despite increased practices among the various communities in Rajasthan like the Shaikh, there are many people who are against the practice and are ready to fight it.
A good example is the establishment of a group, the Mali community, which is set to completely do away with the practice of child marriages through taking necessary actions against those who are involved in promoting it, for instance, parents who let their underage children to engage in marriage and also those who coordinate them. Some people have also pledged not to take part in any action tends to support child marriages.
A social boycott seem to be the only option left of ending this impunity as others like the use of threats and educating the society of the bad effects of child marriages has previously failed. To fight this problem, there should be educational campaigns to increase the legal age of marriage and educate people of the adverse effects of child marriages and also establishment of an effective marriage registration system.
It is evident the practice of child marriages has been in existence in many parts of India and other Muslim communities. The policy makers have also been keen to the details associated with child marriages but it has proved difficult and almost impossible to enforce laws that govern the issue. Various studies show that the Indian government is usually not good when handling personal laws that affect particular communities and do not hail from grassroots movements.
There is, however, efforts to solve the problem for instance, bills passed like the Marriage Bill which advocated for enactment of a uniform law in regard to marriages and compulsory registration of marriages introduced in 1994 to prevent practices of polygamy and child marriages. Unfortunately, the law did not pass. Other laws as mentioned above are also present but they are not effective since they have been implemented to end child marriages.
India Planning Commission. Rajasthan Development Report. New Delhi: Academic Foundation, 2006.
Mahan, Rajan. “Rajasthan endorsing child marriage?” NDTV News. Jan 22, 2010. 05 Feb. 2011.