The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Evil social practices, even when carried out on the pretext of tradition or religion, have to be wiped out by stringent laws and the spread of education. This is, obviously, easier said than done in a country as vast and many-layered in population as India. Child marriage is just one of these numerous practices. Like sati and dowry, it has persisted in various regions of the country in spite of specific laws against it. Most of such practices make victims of women in the name of custom, family or community honour, or religion. Apart from the fact that these evils both feed into and are the result of the attitude to women exhibited throughout Indian society, they are also indubitably crimes. The petition against child marriages brought before the Supreme Court by the Forum for Fact Finding Documentation and Advocacy has prompted the court to send notices to the Centre and ten states asking them to put an end to child marriages. These ten states, have been selected by the forum because child marriages are the most common there. In Madhya Pradesh, one of the listed states, a few years ago there was a lavish child marriage attended by socially established families. Such an evil is not easy to eradicate, because here society, instead of playing watchdog, is an enthusiastic participant. It is not poverty, or even merely lack of education, but a deliberate perpetuation of entrenched interests of gender, property and community, that makes child marriages so common.

Social complicity naturally involves law enforcers and administrators. The concern of the forum is justified, it may be imagined to represent the concerns of all right-thinking people. At the same time, it is deeply unsatisfactory that the court should have to intervene in a matter that is purely administrative and legal. To stop the practice, nothing more is needed than the will of the government concerned. It is important that the legislature, the judiciary and the executive keep to their apportioned tasks in the democratic map. It is up to the governments to work out schemes to eradicate child marriage. Targeted education should be part of the scheme. It would help by fostering an atmosphere of social condemnation rather than social approval.

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