India’s Child Brides
Sumita Roy took this picture of this little bride, a child probably no older than 10 or 12 years, in Uttarkashi. Ironically, Sumita was there with her husband for her own honeymoon, and they were lunching at a small hotel when the bridal party walked in. Sumita says, “There was no joy on this little girl’s face, as you would expect to see on the face of a newly married woman. Instead, she looked sad. Maybe even terrified. It was like she thinking “What next?” A big question thrown to the world which she would now have to deal without any knowledge or even awareness of life.”
1/3 of all the “child brides” of the world live in India.
Despite the fact, that this is illegal, there are at least 25 million “child brides” in India. According to a 2007 UNICEF report, most of these girls are married before the age of 10.
The 2001 national census revealed that some 300,000 girls in India who were under the age of 15 had already had at least two or more children. It is not surprising, that these girls are also the most vulnerable to ill health, due to early pregnancies and pregnancy related complications.
The abuse and psychological trauma that these children are subject under these circumstances, is too terrifying to even consider. See the photo graph below of a girl and her husband. Her face says it all. That young man sitting next to her dressed as a groom, is free to do with her whatever he wills after this ceremony.
As children, these girls are continually subjected to rape and sexual violence from their husbands and can be similarly victimized by other men living in or visiting their marital homes. The girls are too small to resist, or fend for themselves. Their rape is considered a normal part of “married life” that they will learn to get used to.
In the book Broken Voices, a series of interviews with Indian women, a women talks about what it was like for her when she was married off at the age of 13. “I was scared of my husband because he was so much older than me. I never wanted him to come home because I was frightened he might touch me.”
Studies also indicate that these girls have the highest rates of HIV infection in the under-18 age group in India.
Sexual promiscuity, multiple partners, unprotected sex, among men and adolescent boys are unchallenged norms in the poorer sections of Indian society (villages and urban slums) – where these child marriages occur. These are regarded as male prerogatives, just like marital rape — a sort of sub-cultural expression of machismo.
When married women or girls in India contract HIV through their husbands, the in-laws and communities blame the wife for the husband’s illness. They turn the tables on her and accuse her of promiscuity and/or witch-craft. Often when these girls are sick and pregnant they are turned out of the house onto the streets, and left homeless and even more vulnerable to social predation.
If adult married women in these sections of society are unable to protect themselves from rape, multiple pregnancies, and HIV infection, and often accept their plight as the reality or normality of “being a woman,” what are the chances of survival of a “child bride?”
The important question is: How can these child marriages be stopped in India?
The lack of education is often cited as the main reason for the perpetuation of “child marriages,” in India. But our research indicates otherwise. The reasons for the continuation of child marriages in India are far more complex, and often very disturbing. We will address the real reasons for what’s perpetuating India’s child marriages in a subsequent article. Stay posted.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Sumita Roy is a supporting photographer of the 50 Million Missing Campaign. To know about her and see her other works click here.