Child Brides in India
In many societies, marriage is a celebrated institution commemorating the union between two consenting adults and the beginning of their lives together. However, this experience and celebration is different for the millions of girls around the world who are forced to wed while still children, some not even yet teenagers.
Child marriage is a marriage that occurs between two people where one or two of the partners is under 18. While boys are also married under the age of 18, girls far outnumber boys in child marriages. It is usually forced and occurs often to girls who are ages 12 to16 years old. The husband is also often several years older than his wife, sometimes even decades older. This kind of marriage is a violation of basic human rights according the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article sixteen .
This practice of child marriage is not only isolated to one or two countries or to one religion but is worldwide, with it being broadly spread in West Africa, South Asia, North Africa/ Middle East, and Latin America. According to UNICEF, the proportion of women aged 15-24 married before 18 was at 48% in South Asia, 42% in Sub-Saharan Africa and 29% in Latin America and Caribbean. According to the International Center for Research on Women, the countries with the highest rates of over 70% of girls are married in Niger, Chad and Mali. In India, more girls are at risk of child marriage than other countries combined . Child marriages are illegal in India and are actually punishable with a fine of 100,000 INR (equivalent to $1,923.82) and two years of prison for anyone who “performs, conducts or negligently fails to prevent a child marriage“ However, despite it being illegal, 47%, one-third of all “child brides” of the world, live in India with at least 25 million “child brides” residing there. According to a 2007 UNICEF report, most of these girls are married before the age of 10. The 2001 national census also revealed that around “300,000 girls in India who married under the age of 15 had already had at least two or more children”.  These girls are also the most vulnerable to ill health, due to early pregnancies and pregnancy related complications.
Child marriage in India started in the late Vedic era, roughly around 500 BCE when religious ritual became very important and the status of women declined dramatically. Sexual freedom, equality, freedom to write poetry, were all rights that women had taken for granted in earlier times. However, these rights became steadily constrained. According to Vatsayyana who is said to be the writer of the ancient sex manual The Kama Sutra wrote a, “man should marry a girl of eleven or thereabouts, just on the verge of puberty” . The reason for this, according to him was because women were naturally promiscuous and unfaithful and this was the only way to ensure a virgin, was to marry a virgin bride. A virgin bride was important because if a man could marry a virgin and afterwards was able to “keep her from all form of unsecured contact with other males, he would ensure that the children born to her were his own” . During those times however, what we call a “child” today wasn’t the same back then. In those times it was lucky if one was able to live to the age of thirty, and because of this there was the need to breed early and breed “prolifically, because that was the only way to ensure the continuation of the race”. Although child marriage has historical roots so do many other things, like cannibalism and human sacrificed, that are not sanctioned today The main reason that child marriage still persists is because of the inferior status of women. There is a “disregard for the rights of girls and women, and a refusal to see them as people who can make their own decisions and have control over their lives”.  Women in most of India to this day are despised and neglected. The birth...