In a letter to Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, NGOs and social groups fighting for women’s rights and against child marriage expressed their displeasure with the marriage amendment bill 2021 introduced by the state, which mandates the registration of all marriages, even those involving minors. Minors’ marriages must be registered by their parents or guardians, the bill states.
Passed last week in the assembly, this has sparked outrage in the state, with people opposed to child marriage and girls who have been victims of child marriage claiming that this is a backwards bill.
The concern is whether the Rajasthan government is indirectly legitimising child weddings in the state by making all marriages in the state compulsory, even those between minors.
The government claims it is acting in accordance with a Supreme Court decision that all weddings be registered and that it is protecting the rights of child widows and even children born of child marriages.
However, what do girls who were compelled to marry at an early age have to say about this?
Pooja Jandu was interviewed by NDTV in Jodhpur. Pooja was barely 12 years old when she and her older siblings were married off in Jodhpur. She claims she was too young to comprehend what was occurring and was too afraid to protest in the face of so many seniors.
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Pooja, now twenty years old, is battling in court to have her marriage annulled. She aspires to be a martial arts expert and to live her life independently.
She asserts that by marrying a kid off at an early age, whether you ask her or not, you become her someone’s bride and a member of another family in the eyes of society.
“I married at the age of twelve. I attempted to say no, but my family was pressured by the community elders, the ‘Panch Patels’. My in-laws desired to immediately take me to their home, but my father refused, claiming I was too young. Additionally, community leaders attempted to pressurise my family by threatening to fine us if we did not cooperate. The administration must put an end to this practise. Allowing a child marriage to occur automatically converts you into a wife, whether you like it or not “Pooja asserts.
Community panchayats are well-known for their regressive role in child marriages, frequently coercing parents into early marriages and then fining them heavily for refusing to deliver young women to their marital homes.
This was the situation with Santa Devi, who was married at the tender age of 11 months. When she filed for annulment of her marriage in 2015, her parents were fined 16 lakh and the caste panchayat in Jodhpur decided to socially outcast them for not honouring the marriage.
Girls like Roopa, now 19, have successfully rejected child marriage. Roopa’s parents in her hamlet of Khokhsar in Barmer planned to marry her off with her two elder sisters when she was 15, but she summoned the fortitude to fight, eventually convincing her parents to let her study.
She is now happily married and works in a hospital. She thinks that a prohibition of juvenile marriages must be absolute.
“The practise of child marriage must be abolished. How many girls’ lives have been damaged as a result of child marriage? It should be completely prohibited “she asserts.
Her 22-year-old husband, Rama Ram, asserts that young boys are just as likely to be victims of child marriage as young girls. He was twelve years old when he became betrothed to a one-year-old girl. Fortunately, the engagement was called off, and Rama Ram now describes himself as blissfully married to Roopa. She is a hospital operating room technician, and he is a veterinary compounder.
“Additionally, young boys are victims of underage marriages. They are unable to complete their studies or secure employment. They quickly become entangled in familial obligations. As a result, boys are just as much a victim of underage marriage as girls “he asserts.
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Activists such as Kriti Bhati, who has prevented 1,500 child marriages in Rajasthan and annulled over 43, argue that the new rule, by mandating the registration of all marriages, even those involving minors, is a step backwards.
“In our society, women are treated as property, and men have a right to their wives. Allowing child weddings to be registered further legitimises them. Additionally, you are supporting sexual offences against children, adolescent pregnancy, and a slew of other issues “she asserts.
On the other hand, the government believes that by registering all marriages, it is only safeguarding the rights of children who are still a part of a social practise that exists in Rajasthan. Sangeeta Beniwal, Chairperson of the Child Rights Commission, points out that the government is not approving or supporting child marriages in any way.
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marriages must be registered by their parents or guardians
They are unable to complete their studies or secure employment