Indian girls rebel against early marriage | Connect Asia

Indian girls rebel against early marriage

Indian girls rebel against early marriage

Updated 3 September 2012, 13:53 AEST

Indian law prohibits marriage for children or women younger than 18.

And yet at least 200,000 child marriages take place in India every year, in line with centuries of tradition.

It's the parents who decide to marry off most girl children in Indian society. And, the children do not have any say.

But in eastern India's West Bengal state some girls have rebelled against their parents' plans. and refused to marry until they finish their studies and are self-dependent.

Correspondent: Shaikh Azizur Rahman

Speakers: Bithika Das, a 16-year-old child who stopped her marriage one and a half years ago; Sirajul Islam, Child Welfare Committee chairman, Murshidabad; Chandana Haldar, a 15-year-old child who stopped her marriage last year; Dr Sameer Choudhury, director, Child In Need Institute; Jose Bergua, head, child protection wing of UNICEF in India; Rinki Das, Bithika's mother

SHAIKH: Sitting at the door of a one-room tile-roofed house an eleventh grade girl is engrossed in her studies.

Daughter of a food vendor, 16-year-old Bithika Bithika lives in a small village in Murshidabad district where most families are poor.

Yet, today she has become an inspiration for many girls who don't want an early marriage, and dream of pursuing higher education and an independent career.

BITHIKA: When I was a ninth grade student, my parents fixed my marriage. Because of our weak financial condition my parents were eager to marry me off. But I did not want to marry. I mustered courage, called up the Child Helpline and urged them to help me. The helpline activists came to our house and stalled my marriage.

SHAIKH: When parents in rural India plan to marry off their under-age daughters, they rarely bother to seek the girls' consent.

After marriage, young brides usually stop studing; become dependent on their husbands and end up doing nothing but housework.

Murshidabad's Child Welfare Committee chairman Sirajul Islam says, illiteracy and poverty drive the practice of child marriage in rural India.

ISLAM: Illiterate parents do not understand that by educating their daughters they can empower the girls which can make their future brighter. The second reason is poverty. Poor parents want to get rid of their adolescent girls as early as possible.

SHAIKH: But, when she was 14, Bithika Das rebelled against the tradition.

And she is not the only girl in the region to have done so.

Over the past two years in West Bengal, more than 100 under age village girls have thwarted their parents' plans to marry them off.

Bithika says, by delaying marriage, she has chosen the path of self-empowerment.

BITHIKA: I felt an early marriage and end of studies would bring my life to a halt. Now I have got a first class in my high school leaving exam. I know I shall land a good job. After I marry in future, because of my job and strength, I shall get respect in my new family. No one will neglect me.

SHAIKH: Chandana Haldar is another local girl local who defied her parent's early marriage wishes

The 15-year-old says she chose to continue her studies to prove many stereotypes about women wrong.

HALDAR: In this male-dominated society most women are subjugated into the typical role of producing children and work like a bonded labourer in the family. I shall force them to change their ideas about a woman. I shall show them that a woman too can match the strength of a man in many walks of life.

SHAIKH: The head of child protection wing of UNICEF India Jose Bergua says, he supports the zeal of youngsters like Bithika and Chandana to continue their education.

BERGUA: Still close to half of women in India are being married when they are children. It is a violation of children's rights. It affects their health, their education, health of their children. Child marriage makes girls especially much more vulnerable to violence, to HIV etc. So, stopping their marriage and putting them back to school is key, because education is the door to so many opportunities in life of those girls.

SHAIKH: Anti-child marriage campaigner Dr Sameer Choudhury heads the NGO Child In Need Institute or CINI, which helped the now 16-year-old Bithika Das stall her marriage.

CHOUDHURY: Bithika is a very courageous girl who was able to go against the wishes of her family members. It's a brilliant achievement and it's quite encouraging for all of us. However, her case is just a flash in the pan because most of the child marriages go unreported in the country.

SHAIKH: Initially, Bithika's parents were very angry with the CINI activists because they stopped their daughter's marriage.

But now Bithika's mother, Rinki Das, says her views have changed.

RINKI: Now, as Bithika is studying well and recently scored very good marks in school leaving exam, we feel very nice. I am sure her future is bright and the activists the activists have actually helped us. I am also sure that she will land a good job after some years. I feel very proud of my daughter now.

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