Child marriages are still rampant in the state of Rajasthan, India. To prevent them, the state government this month issued a directive that the birthdates of bride and groom be printed on the wedding invitations.
Child marriage is rooted in the centuries-old social traditions of many states in India. These traditions go against Indian law, which forbids girls to be married before 18 and boys before 21. However, according to a UNICEF information sheet, 43 percent of Indian women aged 20 to 24 years are still married before the age of 18. Rajasthan is one of the states with the highest incidences of child marriages.
Yogesh is a member of the city of Jodhpur-based nongovernmental organization, Vikalp Sansthan, which since 2006 has stopped 600 girl child marriages.
“In Rajasthan in olden days children were married at a very young age,” he said. “Bride and groom used to sit in the laps of their parents and get married. However, these days we no longer see such early child marriages. Girl child marriage age has increased to an average of 11 to 12 years.”
No wonder the government senses the need to issue the directive, finding it difficult to implement the law in communities that are finding new, disguised, ways to marry children. “Families marry their elder girl of the age of 18 or 19 years, and in the crowd of the same marriage celebration, marry off the younger sisters who are still children. Sometimes children don’t even know that they will get married, and everything is conducted as a hushed affair,” said Yogesh.
It becomes difficult for authorities to find out who, exactly, is getting married. Media reports quoting a state officer from a welfare department for children and senior women said that all printing press owners will have to see birth certificates from the families of the bride and groom before printing wedding invitations.
Yogesh believes that such directives will exert pressure on people, who will become conscious that it’s illegal to marry children. He says it used to be a common sight on the roadsides—small children dressed as bride and groom, accompanied by a Barat (marriage party). But it’s no longer so, he said. He credits many directives and campaigns for the change.
“We work with communities very closely. Whenever we come to know that a child is getting married, instead of calling police, our team first visits the family and counsels the parents about the disadvantages of marrying children. In 80 percent of the cases we are successful in convincing parents not to marry children,” Yogesh said.
He said that 60 to 70 percent of the child marriages happening in Rajasthan are girls. “This is because parents don’t value girls. They consider them a liability. The older she grows, the more they feel burdened.”
According to the government directive, if a printing press owner finds that either the bride or groom are not of legal age for marriage, he will turn down the print order and report the proposed wedding to the respective district administration, so that it can be prevented.
Printing press owners who are found flouting the orders will face arrest and six months’ imprisonment, and will also be fined Rs.1,000 ($18).
The project was launched on a pilot basis at Bharatpur district of the state in April last year. According to media reports, the officer of the welfare department for children and senior women said, “The results are great. About 50 child marriages were prevented in the past one year. Now it has been implemented across the state.”
“Since wedding invitation cards are commonly printed to invite guests, we have directed printing press owners to follow these orders. They have been asked to submit a copy of the invitation card for each wedding taking place in the respective district administration. These wedding cards will be scanned,” the officer said.
The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 21 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.