Speakers during the workshop at a Ranchi hotel on Friday. Picture by Hardeep Singh
Ragini, a 12-year-old girl in Deoghar Sadar block, ran away with her uncle. They were traced and brought back to the village three days later. Owing to social pressure, her parents married her off.
Swati, all of 17, was married to a 40-year-old-man once her family got to know she had become friendly with a boy of her age.
Such alarming facts about child marriages (names of girls have been changed to protect their identities) in Jharkhand came to light at a two-day state level workshop titled, Strengthening Implementation of Laws on Domestic Violence and Child Marriage, inaugurated in the state capital on Friday.
Organised by CREA, a Delhi based feminist human rights organisation, along with Chetna Vikas and Women Power Connect, the workshop delved upon the high incidence of child marriages in Jharkhand and attributed social pressure, lack of awareness and illiteracy as the oprimary reasons behind the trend.
Jharkhand has the dubious distinction of recording the third highest number of child marriages among states of the country.
“As soon as a girl reaches her teens, she develops feelings of like or dislike about members of the opposite sex. This is the time when the family and society put pressure on her and she is married off as a commodity,” Rachna Shanbog, a team member of Women Power Connect, told The Telegraph.
In the case of Ragini, the local panchayat imposed a “fine” on the two families for “defaming” the village. In school, Ragini was teased by her peers. For her parents, therefore, marrying her off seemed to be the only solution.
Chetna Vikas director Rani Kumari said adolescent girls were often given away in marriage by the family in the guise of saving family honour.
“As soon as a family realises that their girl has attained puberty, they look out for a match, hoping to save the chastity of the girl and thereby securing their sense of honour and respect in society. Such people treat their girls as a commodity and think it wise to marry them off rather than ensure their well being,” Kumari said.
The general consensus that emerged during the discussions was that more awareness in the grassroots was the need of the hour if child marriages had to be stopped in the hinterlands of the state.
Volunteers and field workers admitted that the situation was out of control. Yet, awareness was growing, even though slowly.
“A lot has to be done and panchayat leaders have to be involved in a big way to curb the menace,” Shanbog added.