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Workshop on Prevention of Child Marriage was held on 8th and 9th November, 2012, at Greenwood Resort, S.G. Highway Ahmedabad. This workshop was organized by the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment, Gandhinagar, and UNICEF Gujarat. Mr. R.S. Patel, Director of Social Justice and Empowerment Department and CEO of Gujarat State Child Protection Society and Mr. Lolichan, State Consultant, UNICEF Gujarat has inaugurated the workshop. Legal Officer and Protection Officer - Non Institutional Care from most of DCOUs across the state and Child marriage Prevention Officers from five districts and CHILDLINE Coordinator from Ahmedabad and Rajkot were participated in this workshop.

Child marriage is a social norm that requires effort of multiple stakeholders to address the issue and that the main purpose of the workshop was capacity building of key stakeholder to preventing child marriage in the state. Another aim of this seminar was gaining clarity on the legal framework for preventing child marriage in Gujarat context. And the last but not least purpose was the prepare action plan for preventing child marriage

In initial session, Mr. R.S. Patel, Director of Social Justice and Empowerment Department, Gandhinagar and CEO-GSCPS has given a brief on the historical background of child marriage. He said that it may differ by community but there are so many rituals exist in our society which is at the root of the problem. He also added that if we want to prevent our children from an earlier marriage than we should work with local community leaders and parents. In the same session, Ms. Hemalee Leuva has described Child Rights and given an overview of problems faced by children in Gujarat state. She described that around 47 per cent of children are malnourished and 63 percent of children drop out during their 8 to 12 standard’s studies. She added that Gujarat as state, with 38.7 per cent of women aged 20-24 were married before they were 18 years; however, state fairs better than national average in this regard. However there are certain districts within a state with higher prevalence, such as Banaskantha 55.3%, Patan 54.5 %, Dahod 44.8 %, Baroda 44.4 %, and Kheda 44.4 %.

She then presented that in Gujarat the number of convictions of those charged with committing child marriage is very small. Since the passing of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006, the total number of applications received reporting Child marriage in Gujarat is 1831. But only in 391 cases these kinds of marriage were prevented and just in 21 cases punishment or penalty has been issued. Due to lack of evidence 1064 applications have been rejected and 107 cases are under court hearing and 228 cases are still pending.

In the second session, Ms. Advaita Marathe, Consultant, UNICEF Gujarat presented the key findings of her research on field documentation of child marriage. The documentation was carried out in 5 districts of Gujarat covering 13 blocks and total 29 villages. She presented that child marriages are not limited to the poor, the uneducated and backward castes but it prevails across all classes and castes in Gujarat. The younger daughters in the family are married into family along with the elder girl to save expenditure.

In evening session, Ms. Bharti Ali, Co-Director, Haq: Center for Child Rights, Delhi has given presentation on Child Marriage Prevention Act 2006. She presented that before the commencement of this act, Sharda Act 1929 was existed. She said that this new act is emphasizing on prevention of child marriage, rather than just stop happenings of such incident. If concern person wants to prevent child marriage, then he should follow a few steps. Firstly, he should inform to Child Marriage Prevention Officer of the particular district. After getting information from people, CMPO will send a fax or email to police to help prevent child marriage. Then he should ask to court in written to issue stay order to stop such happening. A person should keep in mind that this stay order will be for only particular places. So if he has doubts that couple can marry some other place than it is indeed that we should ask to court to issue stay order for the whole district or large geographical area. After this kind of stay order of court, if marriage of that couple happens in banning area, then it’s totally illegal.

By: SAM Nasim

In the last session, Participants were divided into five groups to work out on strategy for cause. An action plan for preventing child marriage in Gujarat has been prepared. The seminar ended with an appreciation for valuable guidance provided by resource persons, and all stakeholders for their active participation.

This information was shared by Amrat Chaudhari, Ahmedabad based Freelance Social Worker, previously working as City Coordinator at Ahmedabad CHILDLINE 1098 (National 24 X 7 hours toll free help line for children in need of care and protection). Amrat can be contacted at amrat_999@yahoo.com

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Replugging this old article with my views on the lack of recognition of distinctions between sex and crime in actions of governments and judiciary in the wake of yet another instance of a court going on record calling it wrong to punish statutory rape if the 15 year old girl voluntarily eloped with the accused, conveniently ignoring that this was not about kids engaging in consensual sex, but abduction as well. This is hardly an isolated instance and basically reflects complete breakdown of protective mechanisms against luring children into sexual relationships.

Recently, Brazil went on a spree for cleaning its reputation for sex tourism as a prelude to being spanking clean for the 2014 World Cup. In 2011, their government identified 2,169 websites with women in sensual poses or promoting sex with children and demanded a clean up. about 1,100 or so have cleaned up their act so far, and more are expected to. What I found worrisome is that the government seemed to find sex with adults and sex with children about the same. The reason why selling sex with children is illegal because they are considered incapable of making these choices and their exploitation is assumed (based on known prevalence) - which is of course the case with most children engaging in commercial sex. Equating it with an adult woman making her choices is an insult to both. An adult woman's rights to decide for herself need to be respected, just as it is important to prevent exploitation of children. They are entirely different things.

An old post by Indian Homemaker got recirculated for Child Sexual Abuse Awareness month, where she describes a court case that demonstrates the bizarre condition of our courts. A 15 year old girl eloped with a 22 year old man willingly. Her family filed a case against him for rape (the consent of a person under 16 years is not considered valid in Indian courts and it is automatically without consent, and thus rape), but later consented to the marriage. The court held the man guilty of kidnapping, but acquitted him of rape. Here is where it gets blurry. In India, child marriage is a crime, but another law holds that a man having sex with a 15 year old *wife* is not committing rape, even though she is not of the age of consent. In any case, while the families may later have agreed to the marriage, it was abundantly clear that when they had sex, they weren't.

Just for contrast, a High Court court in Rajasthan not only upheld the kidnapping of a married woman from her husband's home, but also put several restrictions on a well established tradition of marriage. The woman was 18. They were married. The family forcefully took her back and the court allowed it.

Indian Homemaker was rightfully indignant "I didn’t understand this judgement. Isn’t the girl a minor?"

I think our laws for children are not very well thought out. Here are some thoughts:

Age of consent

Age of consent in India is at 16 years old. All sex under this age is criminal, which is a rather impractical way of managing biology with legislation. The age of puberty is decreasing. Sexual freedom is increasing. Many, many children have boyfriends and girlfriends and have sex with them as a natural part of being human and growing into their sexuality. Criminalizing this is counterproductive to a healthy psychology around sex.

At the same time, it is important to see that children are not seduced into consent and thus exploited. This needs deliberation. A possibility may lie in age restrictions within a few years of their age.

I agree with the judge, that if the girl was willing, then it cannot be rape, even if she was under 16. But I have another big problem. That is with the marriage. While sex is a biological fact, marriage is a social norm and a contract. If the age of consent is 16 years and the minimum age of marriage to be 18 years (which is also the internationally recommended minimum age of marriage), then I think it makes the girl considerably unsafe for that marriage to be allowed to stand. The reason is that it opens the way for seducing minor girls and getting away with it if a complaint is made by offering marriage and pointing out or using some social pressure about being shamed to get agreement. In my view, this is exceedingly risky for a girl who cannot legally make any decisions for herself. And precedents like this WILL have lawyers recommending pedophiles to offer marriage rather than fight a losing case in court. That is what lawyers get paid for - to look for holes for their clients to slip through.

They had consensual sex. Ok, fine. However, to be married, the girl was under age, and that should be upheld by courts. They can continue to have their relationship or not; sex or not; which is between them (and likely their families), but they should be allowed to get married when they are of an age to get married.

I think the problem here is that governments care little for the rights of women or children and sex and marriage have been so thoroughly joined, or that the rights of women and children are carelessly clubbed together, that few are able to see distinct meanings. Which is how these things happen - a country engaging in sex tourism including child sex tourism bans all sex from websites, not just child sex. A child who has had sex with an adult gets abandoned by the legal system because he married her.

There is little nuance. There is little examination of implications for those to be protected. If an exploiter of children can marry one if he gets caught, what does it mean for the child to live in a home where she was accepted as an alternative to prison and where she was already sexually exploited? Particularly, when legally she doesn't even have full rights on her bank account, she can't drive, she can't walk out, hire a lawyer, make her own purchases or even buy her own phone? And our laws actually give the husband legal guardianship of the wife in such a situation - that is plain kinky. Either you are guardian, or husband. She may not be sexually exploited either, but there is a reason that the minimum age of marriage is not the age of puberty. It allows for the development of the girl - physically and mentally. It raises the minimum age of having children, which is an important health consideration as well as one for population control.

And there is a big need. Child marriages are big in India. 5% of all male and 30% of all females in India marry between 15 and 19 years. For every 1000 girls between 15 and 19 years of age, there are 45 who have kids. These are UNICEF statistics (2000-2010). The reality is far less sterile. Last year Bhaira Ram blew the whistle on a cousin marrying an underage daughter and got excommunicated by his village panchayat. An appeal to CM Ghelot got the mandatory "feel good" directive for the district administration to look into the matter, but nothing actually happened. Villagers agree he was wronged, but don't dare go against the panchayat. His children are alienated in school, and he is planning to leave his village and seek a life elsewhere. What is the kicker? The child marriage he alerted about still happened.

In a time like this, in social conditions like this, governments, judiciaries have a special responsibility to set standards based on ethics and rights, even if they go against the grain of popular traditions. That is how change happens, not by accommodating traditions we want to end. Not for vote banks, not for resistance. If institutions like the government and judiciary cannot challenge existing ills, then we might as well stop expecting the common man to destroy his life fighting them, no?

In that case, instead of a permanent seat in the UN, we should apply for a permanent seat in the bottom of human rights lists. We want to be a world power, then we MUST bring our human rights to world ideals. Or we are yet another bad example.

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Remember the stories of Rajasthan as the land of valor, where honor is more important than life? Well... that still isn't too far from the truth. To date, women and men without power suffer at the hands of those with power. This horrifying email from a reader shares some of the environment growing up in an "honorable" family in Rajasthan. Just establishing that Rajasthan is no easy place to be to go against the family. Other news of honor related deaths - killings and suicides are routine.

In this kind of society, the Arya Samaj was a bastion of legitimacy and hope for many who wanted to marry but were not certain of parental approval. People who could "run away and marry" and perhaps return when things calmed down somewhat, or in the case of difficult families, not return at all.

The easy process and group weddings made it affordable to the poor.

In a recent ruling, the Rajasthan High Court has put a ban on any such love marriage unless parents of both the bride and bridegroom are informed through police about the intention of their children to enter into wedlock and if they object, the couple must produce three "prominent persons" from each side as witnesses. The court further directed that at least six days time be given to the parents to take a conscious decision on such a"love marriage".

"The pious purpose of the Arya Samaj Mission has been lost by the local units in the state and they are becoming a tool for pacification of 'greed and lust' for girl and boy and once it is over, the marriage lands in courts resulting in irreversible breakdowns. We fail to appreciate the Arya Samaj becoming a tool of such pacification. The persons running Arya Samaj are minting money by such marriages resulting in a serious problem in society," observed Justice Kothari Sajjan Singh.

While I understand that thoughtless, hormone laden marriages help no one, I believe that stupidity, greed or lust are currently legal in India and individual rights, if at all love marriages are that. This kind of moral policing has led to more deaths for honor than anything else. It is extremely shameful that a court violates human rights blatantly to restrict the freedoms of young people and compromise their safety out of a sense of upholding "the pious purpose" of an Arya Samaj that has absolutely no problem with these marriages. In other words, the court claims to know Arya Samaj better than the Arya Samaj, the circumstances of marriage better than the people marrying, and imposes restrictions based on their idea of "serious problem" in society.

If at all there were research that showed that marriages from the Arya Samaj had a higher rate of divorce than other love marriages, it would still be an individual's right to marry and divorce according to their needs in life. I married an older man at 18 to escape an abusive family. It was a mistake, sure, but I did escape my abusive home and it was my mistake to make. No such reference to conclusive evidence that the so called  has been made in any case. Arranged marriages having a lower rate of divorce is no surprise, but arranged marriages also have higher rates of dowry related harassment and deaths. Would you ban arranged marriages for that?

As for the court having a problem with marriages landing up in courts for divorce, my maid doesn't like dishes landing up in the sink for cleaning. It isn't a popularity contest. If you don't like your job, find another one, pressurize the govt for awareness creation so "less dishes land up for cleaning" but you can't "ban eating rice because many dishes are from eating rice".

The ban was supposedly prompted because a 34 year old man married an 18 year old girl. 18 is legal in India for giving consent. There are no riders for parental approval. The parents forced the girl back after marriage, and there doesn't seem to be any misconduct involved at least from the news reports other than the parents taking her back forcibly, forcing the  filing of a Habeas Corpus petition by 34-year-old Buddha Ram Meena who entered into such a marriage with 18-year-old Maina Bhatt. It is entirely shocking that a court can supposedly uphold the forcible removal of a married woman from her husband's house AND impose restrictions on their method of marriage!

34 years old isn't exactly like a 54 year old! 34 year old men look and act young, and while the difference in age is large, it isn't exactly impossible for them to fall in love with 18 year olds!

On the other hand, this ruling has legitimized the kidnapping of a girl from her married home in a land where honor killings still happen. Will the court admit culpability if the girl is killed for honor, commits suicide or otherwise comes to harm, including remaining unmarried for life because of this "scandal"? What about the lives now in danger because of hostile families seeing their marriage as a very public deadline for either banning (and they have been given that right now) or preventing through more extreme means?

Where earlier people could marry and present as fait accompli or run away till the anger died down, this ruling forces people to endure resistance, possible dangers, turns the wedding into an open challenge and defiance, And then it also makes sure that escaping will not work, since all the parents have to do is deny approval and land up at the place of the wedding to prevent it.

In pretending to protect the piousness of the Arya Samaj, the Court has successfully flatlined it as a viable option for love marriages where family may be a threat. How is this different from the Khap panchayats?

In the meanwhile, the increasingly expensive "cheap" option of Arya Samaj draws no restrictions - who actually cares about the poor people wanting to get married?

The better options for love marriages for those with dangerous families would be:

  • Not marrying - this is tops. Even if you live in for long, and later separate, the courts have started treating it like a kind of marriage if it comes to a break up. Even if you end up divorcing, by then this will only improve. It makes their job tougher, but the way I see it, they asked for it.
  • Change religion. You can be a 64 year old Muslim/Christian and happily marry an 18 year old girl, and show me the court that will challenge that. Downside - it is a stupid idea, because it won't feel like any marriage you recognize - different rituals.
  • Run away and register for a court marriage - the witnesses can be anyone. Absolutely anyone. Indeed, many people stand outside courts to offer such services.
  • Do a normal Hindu marriage with any couple sitting in for parents - the priests are fine with it.
  • Don't do an Arya Samaj marriage, because an honor supporting judge has made it too dangerous.

It seems to me that the court is taking Rajasthan back to times when people were the property of parents, and village elders ruled according the rights of parents to own them. Shame!

Update: I have been waiting for an online version of the judgment to become available, but nothing so far. If you find, please comment, and I will add it in.