India’s worrying surge in child brides

The spike in child marriage, a side-effect of the pandemic, threatens to reverse gains by years of activism. But a government proposal to raise minimum age to 21 for girls is not going to solve the problem, I write in Hindustan Times

Photo courtesy: TheBetterIndia

Gita got married when she was 12 but, like most married girls in her village in Rajasthan, continued to live with her parents and go to school. Her gauna — a ceremony when the bride moves to her marital home — would happen years later. But when the lockdown began, her family decided it was time. Gita, on the verge of completing secondary school, was dispatched to her husband’s home. When she left, three other girls from her village had their gaunas too.

The surge in child marriage is an unanticipated side-effect of the pandemic.

Between March and May, Childline India, an organisation helping children in distress, intervened in 5,333 such marriages. “Given that there was a lockdown and no events, no movement and no mobility, the number is very high,” a Childline official explained. When the lockdown eased in June and July, child marriages spiked, marking a 17% increase over the previous year.

There’s a strong correlation between Covid-19 and child marriage.

On A Mission To Save The World

Despite the hardships they face, teenage girls are on a mission to save the world.

Representational Image

One is on a zero-carbon Atlantic voyage to attend climate change conferences in New York. Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old activist who inspired a global youth movement, has reported dolphin sightings – and, mercifully, no sea sickness, yet.

Another, in Samastipur, Bihar, triggers a movement just by saying no to marriage. In a state where 39.1% of girls marry before they turn 18, the 16-year-old tells her parents she’d rather study. With support from Child Rights and You (CRY), she is now inspiring others to take a similar stand.

A Master of Laws gold medallist at the National Law University, Surbhi Karwa, finds herself in a “moral quandary” over receiving her award from chief justice, Ranjan Gogoi. “The institution he heads failed when sexual harassment allegations were made against him,” she tells The Indian Express.

Young girls seem to be on an unsung mission to save the world. They’re out there on the field kicking a ball, fighting for their right to go to school, or taking moral positions against injustice.

Abuse of Children in India’s Institutions Reveals Nationwide Crisis of Reform

In IndiaSpend, I look at the state of India’s shelter homes for children to discover endemic abuse and, worse, absolute apathy. 

She has no memory of her early childhood, no recollection of her biological parents and no idea of how or why she got separated from them when she was about three years old.

What she does remember is the day she arrived at the Udayan Home for girls in south Delhi.

“I had then been living at a government-run shelter for some years,” said Ritu, who often uses Udayan as her last name. “I must have been around six years old when this lady came to take three of us away, to give us a life. It was so exciting. I had never sat in a car. Never been anywhere. I was curious about everything.”

Now 25, Ritu is one of the exceptional ones who grew up in a shelter home and found a family. She calls Kiran Modi, the founder of Udayan homes, her bua (aunt, or father’s sister) and the two girls who came to Udayan with her, sisters.

“I had a perfectly normal childhood, going to school, going to the park to play and getting the kind of pampering any child would get in a loving home,” said Ritu, who played basketball for her school team. “I was so pampered and so protected that when I left Udayan, I was scared about how I would cope in the outside world.”

Not every child placed in an institution is as lucky.

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Children don’t seem to be a priority in this country

In IndiaSpend: Anti-trafficking activist Sunitha Krishnan, one of three finalists for the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity spoke to me on sex slavery, rehabilitating victims of sex trafficking and death for raping children.

New Delhi: She’s dodged an acid attack, had a fatwa issued against her and survived 17 separate physical assaults. But Sunitha Krishnan, 46, doesn’t seem to be the sort of person to be easily disheartened. The founder of Prajwala, an organisation that describes itself as a “pioneering anti-trafficking organisation working on the issue of sex trafficking and sex crime”, has just been chosen as one of three finalists for the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, a global humanitarian award established to recognize modern day heroes.  The prize-winner gets $100,000 (Rs 66.3 lakh) and an additional $1,000,000 (Rs 6.63 crore) to distribute to organisations doing humanitarian work.

Continue reading “Children don’t seem to be a priority in this country”