Stichting Childrenshome

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9 augustus - Child marriage in Tamil Nadu

Dear Adopt Parents and sponsors,

We bring to your knowledge the predominant practice of child marriage in Tamil Nadu, South India. Despite of several preventive measures taken by government and non government organizations the practice is predominant.

Child marriage is a complex issue. The root causes are Gender Inequality, Poverty, lack of education, cultural practices, and insecurity fuel and sustain the practice.

Gender inequality: 
In many communities where child marriage is practised, girls are not valued as much as boys – they are seen as a burden on their family. Giving girls in marriage at a very young age can be viewed as a way to ease economic hardship by transferring this ‘burden’ to her husband’s family.Child marriage is also driven by patriarchal values and the desire to control female sexuality, for instance, how a girl should behave, how she should dress, who she should be allowed to see, to marry, etc.

Families closely guard their daughters’ sexuality and virginity in order to protect the family honour. Girls who have relationships or become pregnant outside of marriage are shamed for bringing dishonour on their family.

Culture and tradition:
Child marriage is a traditional practice that in many places happens simply because it has happened for generations. In some communities, when girls start to menstruate, they become women in the eyes of the community. Marriage is therefore the next step towards giving a girl her status as a wife and mother.
Traditional practices often go unquestioned because they have been part of a community’s life and identity for a very long time.

More than half of girls from the poorest families in the developing world are married as children. Where poverty is acute, families and sometimes girls themselves believe that marriage will be a solution to secure their future.

Giving a daughter in marriage allows parents to reduce family expenses by ensuring they have one less person to feed, clothe and educate. Families may also see investing in their son’s education as more worthwhile investment. In some cases marriage of a daughter is a way to repay debts, manage disputes, or settle social, economic and political alliances.
In communities where a dowry or ‘bride price’ is paid, it is often welcome income for poor families; in those where the bride’s family pays the groom a dowry, they often have to pay less money if the bride is young and uneducated.

Many parents marry their daughters young because they feel it is in her best interest, often to ensure her safety in areas where girls are at high risk of harassment and physical or sexual assault.

Child marriage can increase in humanitarian crises, such as in conflict or after a natural disaster. When families face even greater hardship, they may see child marriage as a coping mechanism in the face of poverty and violence.

I am sharing below an article from a daily magazine that highlighting the issue of child marriage in Tamil Nadu.

62,500 child marriages in Tamil Nadu, Chennai leads.
Chennai tops the list of districts in TN with most married girls under 15 years of age, according to recent data released by Census 2011. With 5,480 girls under the age of 15 married, Chennai is followed by industrialized Coimbatore that had 3,025 married girls below the age of 15.

Madurai, Tirunelveli, Tirupur and Salem too showed more than 2,000 girls under the age of 15 who were married.

Activists working against child marriage say that while child marriages are predominant in rural areas, the numbers are higher in urban areas because of more population.

While under-developed states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have reported more than 1.5 lakh child marriages, according to the Census 2011 data, states like Tamil Nadu have also reported significant cases of child marriage.

In Tamil Nadu, according to a recent data on fertility published by Census 2011, there were 82.52 lakh girls under the age of 15 when the data was recorded, and 62,500 of these were married.

The data also includes girls who were widowed and separated. The Census figures also reveal that 16,855 underage girls had given birth to at least one child.

The number of child marriages in the state could be higher as there is no data available for married people in the age limit of 15-18. Census 2011 has recorded data for people in the age group of 15-19.

Child rights activists and ground-level workers who have prevented child marriages say that in most child marriages, the family decides to marry off the daughters due to weak economic status.

"In a village near Alandurai in Coimbatore, people of a particular community get girls married once they attain puberty. They feel that it is unsafe for girls to remain unmarried after attaining puberty. Girls drop out of school too," said Krishnaraj K, a child rights activist.

A similar situation prevails in Gundri village near Sathyamangalam, says another child activist D Rajan. "There is no higher secondary school in this village which falls in the forest area of Sathyamangalam. The closest higher secondary school is nearly 40 km away. So, most girls are married off, after they complete Class 8 or 10," Rajan said. Most child marriages are either forced, or are a result of elopement. "In case of girls between 15 years and 18 years, they elope and get married," said Uma Devi, coordinator of Childline in Coimbatore.

There is a watchdog committee at the village panchayat level to curb child marriages. "The Census figures only show these committees have to be strengthened. Most cases occur without the notice of the committee, but, there are chances of the members being ignorant too," said Uma Devi.
It is very evident that Child marriage is tinkled with social, cultural and economic backgrounds and it is very difficult to stop it fully due to large population.

Most of our adopt children come from very poor and rural families and they become victim to child marriage. Two of our adopt children from a tribal community who went for summer holidays are suddenly given in marriage and it was not intimated to us. These children live in Sirumalai hills and it is not possible to keep in touch with them regularly. We came to know this only when children did not return to school after summer holidays. We met an adopt child and her family and talked to them about the sudden marriage. The adopt child expressed that she has no father and her mother is unable to support the needs of two girl children in the family. She also expressed that there is much insecurity to girls in families headed by women in rural communities. It was the decision of her mother and relatives and she couldn’t say no to it and thus she married to a boy from her own tribal community. We could only advise her to have a happy family life and take care of her health. We have decided to educate the parents of adopt children on the issue of child marriage and in the fourth coming meetings with adopt children and their families we will talk about it and we will insist them to stop this practise of child marriage.

Dear adopt parents, we bring to your notice that when an adopt child’s family decided to give the child in marriage, we can insist them to stop it but we cannot force them. Their lives are conditioned by different factors and we can only help them to have better lives but the end is their choice. We request all the adopt parents to understand the cultural differences that exists in the rural and tribal communities. When an adopt child leaves our programme with such reason you can always choose to support another child. We request your kind understanding in this regard.

Thanking you, 
Prema Latha and Antoni,