How Can You Stop Child Marriage?

Source: WikiMedia Commons

Sometimes, when I feel bored, gazing at the ceiling of my room, I am amazed at the way the world around me has changed in the past one and a half year. Crazy isn’t it, how a virus, invisible to the naked eye could turn the entire world upside down. Best guess, you reading this article would also think the same. 
But what about the people from low income and underprivileged families. Unlike us, many such families don’t have access to proper healthcare facilities and access to Digital India. Worse, members of such families have lost their job and are left helpless and go unnoticed. 
Shockingly, according to an estimation published last month, nearly 32 million people have been pushed out of the middle class, increasing the number of poor which has gone up by 75 million. In a nation, where many are still striving for Women Empowerment, the pandemic has hit hard.
Just like any old disease, an opportunistic infection is escalating in our society, Child Marriage amidst a pandemic. India went into a lockdown on 25 March 2020, since then there has been a surge in child marriages. 

The Threat Child Marriages Poses 
Child marriages are a threat to society at various levels. The health of women and adolescent girls is threatened by child marriages due to pregnancy and childbirth at a young age. These have a lasting effect on their mental health too.
Due to the physical immaturity of adolescent girls, complications during pregnancy and childbirth has been the major reason for the death of women under the age of 19 in developing countries. 
Child marriages also put an end to the education of the girl child. We live in a world where even adults lack financial literacy. In such a competitive and tough world, the couple already lacking a formal education would be pushed into intergenerational poverty and illiteracy. This would affect the economic growth of a nation. 
Child marriages also affect the female fertility rate, where there is already a gender imbalance in India. Child marriage also involves the risk of putting adolescent girls into violence, abuse and exploitation. 
In some cases the age gap between the child and her spouse, makes her endangered to domestic violence and marital rape. In some other cases, girls as young as 16-18 years are left as widows.
If you as a responsible citizen are ready to destroy this social evil and change the lives of many adolescent girls, here are few strategies that you can implement as a child protection volunteer.

Network with Communities
Though child marriages are seen in various parts of India, it is predominant in certain areas and in between certain communities. India is home to one-third of the world’s child brides, of which, over half of Indian child brides are from these five states: Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal. 
Build networks of relationships with people who live and work in a specific community. Such a network involving the stakeholders, in this case, children and volunteers with a common vision, would be able to prevent all evil, amidst a crisis when both governmental and non-governmental are passive. 
This proved useful to Dr Rolee Singh in Varanasi, where she is the program director of Dr Shambunath Singh Research Foundation. She was tipped off about a 14-year-old girl being married to a 30-year-old man, from such a network. With the help of local police, they were able to reach the temple the marriage would have taken place and stopped it on time. 
Similarly, she has halted about 5 child marriages, mid-way during the pandemic.

Power of Negotiation 
Not all wars can be won by men and weapons, some are won by words. In this battle against Child marriage, one can use the power of negotiation and speech and bend it to his own will. A proper dialogue with the correct words and arguments can end even the toughest arguments. 
If you get to know about anybody known, involved in child marriage, use the power of your dialogue and negotiations to prevent them from conducting the marriage. The law in India states that if an adult male, above the age of 21 marries a minor girl, he along with the parents or guardians of the girl would be sentenced to up to two years in prison or would be fined up to 1 Lakh or both.
Explain the seriousness of the crime the concerned parties are involving in. You may also mention the government support schemes to the parents of the girl. In many cases, child marriages are due to the poor economic condition of such families and in some other social factors. 
You can also inform them about the various government schemes which are available for the girl child. Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, CBSE Udaan Scheme, National Scheme of Incentives to Girls for Secondary Education are some of the vast numbers of schemes that provide monetary benefits to the families of girl children. 
These were introduced by various governments at various point in time, all aimed at one specific goal, Women Empowerment. This would end not just child marriage, it would female feticides, gender bias, falling sex ratio. 
Unmentioned in the list above is, Apni Beti, Apna Dhan program specifically meant for delaying child marriage. This provides a government-paid bond in the name of the girl child payable to her parents, of Rupees 25,000, if she is unmarried until her 18th birthday.
This power of negotiation and dialogue was used by volunteers in 89% of the cases and children are trained in such a way they were able to stop their own or siblings marriage. 
Along with the strategies mentioned above, the girl child must be prepared to self-report. We live in a culture, where respect for parents is as important as breathing, and disobedience is no less of a sin. In such a society, the girl child must be trained to self-report.  
Child helpline number 1098 and women helpline number 181 are available 24/7 for underage girls who are being forced into marriage. The development of a nation is possible only through inclusive economic growth, which is possible only by eliminating social evils, like Child Marriage. 
You reading this article are also capable to a stop child marriage and save a girl’s life. If you ever come across another child marriage, you know what to do!
Written by - Chandrasekar
Edited by - Piyush Pandey