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By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

7/22/2014 (9 months ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Attitudes must change: Girls and young women must be repected as persons not property

It's a national shame for Southeast Asia's economic powerhouse: One in all three forced child marriages in the world is in India. It's a regional shame as well, as a new UNICEF study has proved almost half of all child marriages are in South Asia.

In rural Indian villages, there are very real concerns about the safety of girls. If a girl is married off early, the strained logic is that her husband can protect her. She is treated as property.

In rural Indian villages, there are very real concerns about the safety of girls. If a girl is married off early, the strained logic is that her husband can protect her. She is treated as property.

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

7/22/2014 (9 months ago)

Published in Asia Pacific

Keywords: India, South Asia, child brides, economic development


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - South Asia accounts for 42 percent of the child marriage cases worldwide, according to a new UNICEF report released this week.

It's estimated that 700 million girls across the globe have been married off before reaching age 18. More than one third were wed before the age of 15, according to the report.

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Entitled "Child Marriage: Progress and Prospects," more underage girls are married off than boys. The practice is most common in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

The report found that Bangladesh has the highest rate of marriage involving girls under age 15. The report also discovered that girls from impoverished families and rural areas are 2.5 times more likely to marry in childhood than those living in the wealthiest sector.

"Child marriage should be seen as a social evil embedded in some cultures, and coupled with a lack of education and social approval, it becomes very hard to fight it in the villages of India," Johny Mathew, a member of the Juvenile Justice Board of India's Karnataka state says.

At the root of the problem is a complete disrespect for the dignity of human persons and a special disrespect for girls and women. Dora Giusti, a UNICEF official researching child marriage in India, opined that the issue has "a lot do with understanding of culture, gender roles and education." Giusti adds that in traditional Indian society, girls are seen only as future mothers and wives.

In rural Indian villages, there are very real concerns about the safety of girls. If a girl is married off early, the logic is that her husband can protect her. This also blocks the possibility of a girl bringing dishonor to her family by selecting her own undesirable partner, Giusti explains. Both realities reveal a culture which has failed to recognize the dignity of every human life and the fundamental right to freedom in choosing a marriage partner.

India passed a law in 2006 banning child marriages but "implementation of it is too weak" because of social pressure, said Giusti. Child marriages are rarely reported to local authorities because of society's acceptance of the practice and because few people see it as breaking of a law.

The Indian government says it has taken significant steps to end child marriage. "One of the notable initiatives taken by India towards protection of children including the girl child has been the establishment of a National Commission for Protection of Child Rights in 2007 for proper enforcement of children's rights," a Ministry of Women and Child Development official, speaking on the condition of anonymity said.

A national strategy on child marriage prevention focusing on law enforcement, access to quality education and other opportunities for empowerment of adolescents was established in 2012, he added. Yet other politicians agree that laws and policies alone are not enough.

"The problem is related to poverty," Samajwadi Party parliamentarian, Dharmendra Yadav says. Poverty leads to a lack of education, and poor uneducated families simply want to avoid huge dowries by giving away their daughters in marriage at an early age, he said.

Some have suggested that it would be beneficial to establish "economic activities for girls so that they can stay away from early marriage."

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