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India’s Child Brides

November 14, 2010

photo credit: Sumita Roy©. All Rights Reserved.

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.

Source: The Daily Mail, June 07, 2006

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.

© The 50 Million Missing Campaign. All Rights Reserved. Please see our copyright notice.

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.

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26 Comments leave one →
  1. Melanie R permalink
    November 14, 2010 10:05 am

    This is beyond heartbreaking. It is quite clear that women are totally dehumanized in these societies. It will take generations to break through the “power structures” that exist and change their thinking.

    I have heard that in some Muslim communities in North Africa, there have been campaigns to end female genital mutilation, or female circumcision. The activists talked directly with the elders of the communities and convinced them that it was a dangerous and unhealthy practice for girls and the whole community. Apparently, they did have some success in reducing the practice. I think this is the only way to get straight to the root of the problem. Although a gut reaction may be to kick some a**, demonizing them and telling them they are crazy and stupid is not the best solution.

    It seems the key is to figure out who the perfect delegates would be. Who would the leaders of these communities most likely listen to and be persuaded by?

    • November 15, 2010 8:39 am

      @Melanie — we will do a detailed post later on what the real reasons are for child marriage in India. That’s what they’ve been doing — trying to talk. But it hasn’t changed anything. And ngo workers, even village women who get involved in the prevention of child marriage come under brutal attack. The police and courts are helpless — it’s almost a kind of anarchy. The custom is 2000 years old — how long will it take to change? In the meantime each year thousands of little girls go through this. There has been a lot of hype about that one FGM case — but by and large if you speak to field workers about FGM, it is not working! It’s not working even with immigrant communities in the U.K. for instance who are living in a totally different cultural setting! Every year hundreds of little african girls are taken back to africa and given FGM — but not one person has been arrested so far even in the UK where it is illegal. And it changes with the second generation. But the thing is every year you are getting a fresh load of new immigrants — so the total numbers don’t go down.

    • Melanie R permalink
      November 15, 2010 1:18 pm

      I didn’t realize the FGM case was exaggerated. That is sad news.

      I hope that this dialogue will lead to new and more effective strategies, and I commend those working towards justice for girls around the world, especially those on the front lines.

      All my love and support!

  2. uday hajra permalink
    November 16, 2010 8:21 am

    ately, for many more years to come, is that the Indian male does not respect women. that is the bottom line! even educated men, with blindingly shinning exteriors, will tell you – in unguarded moments – that “women are dumb”! in bangla we have a standard expression – ‘meye mansuh’er buddhi’ ( never heard the opposite -‘purush manush’er buddhi!), meaning, a special kind of dumbness that only women are capable of!
    This country has a long way to go (if ever we go anywhere, that is!). The way I see it, we haven’t even made a start..! This is a society that in 2010 still treats women as either ‘maid servant-cooks’, ‘nannies’ or as objects of desire!
    Child marriage is one of the many fallouts of that mindset.

    • uday hajra permalink
      November 16, 2010 8:25 am

      sorry! the entire comment wasn’t copied in the last attempt!….
      one inconvenient truth that we have to accept and live with, unfortunately, for many more years to come, is that the Indian male does not respect women. that is the bottom line! even educated men, with blindingly shinning exteriors, will tell you – in unguarded moments – that “women are dumb”! in bangla we have a standard expression – ‘meye mansuh’er buddhi’ ( never heard the opposite -‘purush manush’er buddhi!), meaning, a special kind of dumbness that only women are capable of!
      This country has a long way to go (if ever we go anywhere, that is!). The way I see it, we haven’t even made a start..! This is a society that in 2010 still treats women as either ‘maid servant-cooks’, ‘nannies’ or as objects of desire!
      Child marriage is one of the many fallouts of that mindset.

    • November 19, 2010 6:06 am

      @Uday — you hit the nail on the head. The bottom line is that this is a reflection on how women are perceived in India — as lower beings, as resources, as commodities, but not as human beings who are entitled to individual rights that all humans are entitled to. Yes even educated men as you point out, and women themselves have this thinking! Women raise their daughters to think of themselves this way! What we need to challenge is the mindset, and the power equation which you have done well. And thank you for that! It is also commendable that you do so as an Indian man. More Indians, especially from the educated middle and upper classes need to start speaking out this way if we want to protect girls and women, and allow every Indian citizen the dignity and safety they are entitled to.

  3. November 17, 2010 8:54 am

    I have a problem with the overall premise of your article but I still think its really informative. I really like your other posts. Keep up the great work. If you can add more video and pictures can be much better. Because they help much clear understanding. 🙂 thanks El Goresy.

  4. O Mukherjee permalink
    December 25, 2010 1:41 am

    Though we feel we are learned people still our deep rooted beliefs are so strong that even very renowned, learned and respectable persons of our society can not shed these things from their mind. I don’t know when we will be able to judge things merit wise rather than judging them from our very old unscientific culture. Still now educated people in our society try to prove (without any proof) that whatever our ancestors said or did had a strong scientific background. We need probably another one or two centuries to get rid of these so called ‘scientific’ roots.

  5. February 1, 2011 2:01 pm

    You are absolutely right about this, fellow blogger. The two pictures featured on your blog article shows that child is very sad and she deserves better than this barbaric practice. That poor child. Again, you have shown that child marriages not only robs a girl her innocence and future but also it encourages paedophilia and sexual abuse as well.

  6. emery permalink
    March 8, 2012 10:54 pm

    in the west we do hear about this problem sometimes but we hear about it in places like Yemen, Afghanistan, and Iran. certainly its out of control in those places too but I’ve never heard it mentioned in the US media in relation to India. I don’t understand why. India probably has more “child brides” than the entire Middle East. anyway stories like this make me ask wheres UNICEF?

  7. Wendy permalink
    March 20, 2013 4:47 am

    I dont understand why we are not over there stopping it ourselves ,we went into Timor and stopped it ,What does it take Good Lawyers or the UN ??If I were one of these women I would get all the women together and form an army ,and deal with them.

    • March 25, 2013 11:42 am

      Perhaps because western governments didn’t have a business interest in East Timor or Bosnia. But India is the destination for many big western businesses that want to shift here since labor is cheap (and can be openly exploited with the government turning a blind eye like it did for Union Carbide during the Bhopal gas tragedy) and markets are big. Of course this hurts the economy of the average people in western countries too who lose jobs. But then this is an arrangement between governments and big businesses. Who cares for human rights?

    • emery permalink
      March 27, 2013 5:00 am

      the part about the army could be whats going to happen some day.

  8. March 20, 2013 6:32 pm

    Marriage in many parts of the world is NOT about sex or love.
    In India, marriage is about two families having a party together and the bride and groom often crying unhappy.
    The purpose of marriage is to provide for the children. But many child marriages are childless. The techniques that work best are the woman married when she has been pregnant.
    This means that the man is not always biological father, to Parets first child.

  9. April 6, 2013 1:12 pm

    The best solution may be a love hut.

    • April 8, 2013 12:16 pm

      Well maybe a more open and healthy attitude to sex education is required. But marriages of children to adult men is just not acceptable!

    • April 8, 2013 9:53 pm

      The marriages of children to adult men is in many places a question of survival.
      Is death by starvation better than marriage?
      I do not think you understand how poor people can be.
      At what age are women adults? 21 year old says the Chinese. Most tribal say 12 years. But some say 9 years old! 15 years old in Denmark and 18 years old in many countries. 13 At the Romans.
      You need to have a plan. And ground. In order to change anything.

  10. January 6, 2014 9:28 am

    I’d been recommended this website through my uncle. You are wonderful! Thanks a lot!

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