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Not A Minor Issue - I
Haryana horror: Number of child brides shoots up
195 child marriages reported in state till June 2011 as against 47 in 2009
Geetanjali Gayatri
Tribune News Service

Kaithal, July 7
In Haryana’s Kaithal district, a fruit vendor of Kharoda village didn’t approve of the idea of his 14-year daughter being “unbridled” in her teens, prompting him to try and marry her off as soon as proposals began coming in.

“One of the proposals seemed just the match we were looking for. Our worries could have ended with my daughter’s marriage that day had it not been for the intervention of the protection officer. We had to call off the wedding,” he recalls, almost regretful. A “good proposal” slipped out of our hands, he adds.

“What difference does a few years here or there make? The rising number of affairs among the youth and the gory fate that awaits most runaway couples is common knowledge in the village. We didn’t want to run the risk of being branded as parents of a runaway daughter. We won’t be able to live with the stigma,” he says.

Against only four reported child marriages in 2009 in Kaithal, the number has jumped to 15 in the first five months this year. The total number of such marriages in the state is up from 47 in 2009 to 195 (till June 2011).

So, while Haryana may have a lot on its plate already with a miserably skewed sex ratio, all-powerful khaps and the added responsibility of protecting runaway couples, the trend of child marriages, too, seems to be catching on going by the spurt “detected” in numbers. Ironically, it’s the state’s social issues that are fuelling the return of child brides.

In Sirsa, which has the state’s highest detection rate of 26 child marriages this year, a daily-wager of Chaksahiba village, also a groom himself, had to call off his minor sister’s wedding after a team led by the protection officer arrived on the scene. The marriages were being held under the atta-satta (barter) tradition. “Suitable families matching up to our standards are hard to get and girls are in short supply. With not too many girls available, the best alternative is to enter into an agreement whereby both families gain. What’s wrong about it?” asks Ram Phal, a village elder.

At an awareness camp in Panipat, protection officer Rajni Gupta said villagers justified early marriages, saying that a young girl in the house is an open invitation for perverted minds and they can’t be protecting her at every step. “The easiest way, then, was to get a child married. I could offer no solution to this problem,” Gupta says.

While “detected” cases may be just the tip of the iceberg, protection officers in the field are categorical that an equal number of marriages, if not more, are still going undetected.

“Having a girl child may be taboo, but child marriage most certainly is not. That is why these go undetected unless somebody with a personal grudge against the family in question informs us. The skewed sex ratio and dwindling availability of girls is the single biggest contributing factor to this trend, giving parents anxious moments and encouraging child marriage,” maintains Sunita, a protection officer in Kaithal.

Also, the fear of their daughters eloping with boys of their choice is another big reason to marry them off early as is poverty, since most cases “happen” in the lower middle class families, adds Hisar protection officer Babita Chaudhary. In addition to all the other reasons, the high number of child marriages in Sirsa also has to do with the district’s proximity to Rajasthan where child marriage is very prevalent, protection officer Sadhna Mittal adds.

(To be continued)





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