A Steep Rise in Child Marriages in India: Will the Pandemic Strengthen more Societal Pressures for Women?

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First published in TIO on Oct 22, 2020

By Anuradha Acharjee, Copy Edited by Adam Rizvi, TIO : Every time after a pandemic or a natural disaster, more and more girls drop out of school in India and many other countries and are pushed into marriage. This not only reduces the efficiency of the entire population of the country, making a huge section of the population unable to attain financial independence. It also limits the worldview for this section of the population, encouraging them to aspire for marriage, making it the ultimate goal of their lives.

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Child Marriages hence has become a social, cultural, and economic constraint for the country, and also a huge issue for South Asian feminism. After the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, little girls were pushed to marry tsunami widowers, between the ages of 30-45. After the Ebola virus spread, the number of girls who dropped out of school tripled in the countries that witnessed the outbreak in Africa. In the recent past, the coronavirus pandemic is endangering the lives of many young girls. The working labor class of India is being pushed into poverty because of the loss of jobs and opportunities to work, which has made many girls drop out of school. Economic constraints will most likely not let them join their schools again, and their families would look for them to get married to not the people they deserve, nor allowed to pursue the life they deserve.

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Child marriages have been a practice that pushes little girls into vulnerability, and also increases the chances of them being a burden to the family, and hence being ill-treated. Education is a basic necessity that was recognized by the government of India over a decade ago, which made many girls enroll in schools, undermining the common concept of the son’s education being more important for the family. However, there exists a common mentality that the most important objective with a female’s life is being married, and her identity being associated with that of a man.

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A girl has her father’s family name first as her surname, belonging to them, and then her husband’s family after getting married. Her job is also determined by the services that she has to provide to the family she belongs to, like cooking for them, cleaning, taking care of the younger siblings or children, etc. There somehow exists an enigmatic cloud around the existence of a woman who ventures out of the social constructions. Even though today we have supportive parents who encourage women to be educated, they, however, continue to view the girls through the perspective created by society. Many women attaining good education in the cities aim for the same to get married to educated men earning good salaries. What needs to be understood here is a pattern created by patriarchy, where a woman is valued in the services she provides in the domestic space.

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Most of the career-oriented women are expected to also be doing the household work and be more responsible for the child than the father. Patriarchy has ill effects on the lives of men and women both. While women are expected to contribute towards the household work, take care of children, and be good mothers and daughters, men are expected to have good jobs that pay enough for the entire family’s expenses. Men are expected to be more financially responsible, which further creates struggles for aspiring artists; men who want to be musicians or designers are often discouraged from the very beginning. To create a more free and liberal space for our youngsters growing up in a shaken economy, we need to broaden our perspectives. Education in the government schools is free, and mid-day meals are provided to the students which make high school education more accessible to girls. However, with the vast stretches of rural land in India where many people still live without electricity or access to televisions, this information has to be made more accessible. Government campaigns and advertisements are important, especially in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Rajasthan where femicide exists at a very high rate.

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There is also a need to change our perspective towards gender and get rid of the social constructions attached to the existence of a girl, and that of a boy. Patriarchy does not only affect women but men too. Many men spend all their lives earning money for their family, hardly having any space to realize their dreams. It is the same for the women, the only thing is they spend their entire lives in the domestic space. Our society needs to realize that every woman is different, and so is every man, and they are free to do what they want in their lives, and they should be allowed to choose it. The social construction of gender in India is not only affecting the lives of many girls, but also the boys. It reduces the financial ability of the country as a whole, making a considerable section of the society not have jobs. This is also an increasing concern for the shaken economy, as the world’s fifth-largest economy is struggling at the moment, it would be better if more people are educated, and hence have jobs. There is also a need to recognize girls to be more than just girls, consider their individuality, and let them prosper.

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Compiled and Curated by Maham Abbasi

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Anuradha Acharjee is a Mexico based Indian scholar. She is an avid researcher for minority lives in Latin America and India, women’s rights and feminism in South Asia. Her other interest areas include cultural studies, postcolonial literature, and popular culture.


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