Let her walk through school corridors and she will change lives,
Weave her into the knots of child marriage and she will regret this life.
Barbaric and inhumane traditions have been honoured in India owing to pertinacious beliefs. At an age where girls should be given books and toys, many are tied into the treacherous ropes of marital life and obligations.
Apparently, marriage is a prerequisite to sexual intercourse, virginity is sacred and reversing this cycle will cause an upheaval. Pursuant to this fear, young girls are forced to marry at the onset of menarche. While parents parcel adolescents in floral carriages, offloading their own responsibilities, rejoicing the end of their parental obligations, they fail to acknowledge the costs of their transient happiness and pride.
"Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday. More than one in three (about 250 million) entered into union before age 15. India alone accounts for a third of the global total"
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 provides that, the age to legally consent to sexual intercourse is 18 years for girls. The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 sets the minimum age of marriage for a girl at 18 years. However, the marriage of a girl below 18 years is voidable, not void-ab-initio! The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 provides that a girl below 18 years of age is defined as a child and a child does not have the physical or mental capacity to enter into a sexual relationship.
Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (amended) states that a man is said to have committed rape, if he does any of the intrusive sexual acts as enlisted in Section 375, with a girl below 18 years of age, with or without her consent. However, Exception 2 of the same Section provides that sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape!
So, a girl below 18 years is a child. A girl below 18 years is not physically or mentally ready to have sexual intercourse. A girl below 18 years cannot legally consent to have sex. A girl below 18 years is not eligible to get married. Sexual intercourse with a girl below 18 years, with or without her consent, amounts to rape.
But if this girl is his wife? A man can have sexual intercourse with his child wife, the wife being above 15 years of age, with/without her consent and it will not amount to rape.
The right to equal protection before the law is enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution. Yet, the law ceases to protect a girl below 18 years of age but above 15 years of age, merely on the ground that she is married to the man violating her! What kind of justice will we give our daughters when even our laws fail to protect them?
She can't turn to her family for help -- they got her married,
She can't turn to her husband -- he is the one intrusively tearing through her body,
She can't turn to the law -- the law does not address her plight with a remedy.
An ineffective legal system is like a double-edged sword, if the rape attempts don't tear her apart, the conflicting laws will.
Ironically, the husband doesn't initiate the wave of victimisation -- a bride's parents are the first of her perpetrators. It is easier to manipulate daughters in their early teens. Child wives are more vulnerable to intimate partner violence and sexual mauling than those who marry later. As a child grows, games of manipulation will become less effective and chances of resentment will increase. The misuse of a child's innocence and her unpreparedness to gauge the implications of her actions land her into the shackles of child marriage.
Let our girls lead a life of learning, interaction and physical activity to ensure a healthy standard of living. Education gives a girl direction, fosters mental development, instils confidence, empowers her to be independent and enables her to decipher between right and wrong. Lack of knowledge, awareness and ignorance creates more craters than sutures.
According to UNICEF, "Of the 16 million adolescent girls who give birth every year, about 90% are already married... some 50,000 die, almost all in low-and middle-income countries."
The direct corollary of child marriage is marital rape. Husbands are able to steer their young brides as per their whims. Pregnancy can be incidental to rape or forced with the intention of permanently trapping the child in wedlock. Motives differ, meanings change, methods vary, but the impact is always damaging. Young wives are unaware of the changes their body will undergo. Still recovering from the tremors of repeated rape, they are subconsciously pushed towards a dead end. The excruciating pain due to the intolerable force remains subdued under blankets of male dominance.
"Let girls be girls, not brides," -Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General, U.N
In 2014, the United Nations Committee on Rights of the Child documented the need for India to criminalise marital rape of girls under 18 years of age. Doesn't the ludicrousness rest within our legal framework? We empower criminals through the loopholes in our laws.
There's a constant struggle wherein women are fighting to stay afloat. Treated as an object, the wife becomes a submissive party with no willpower to assert herself. Cultural modernisation has paved the way, but does the direness of our past control the minds of our present generation?
The absence of mobilised public opinion raises the real difficulty in reducing sex felony. To rectify a problem, we need to recognise and react.
A child wife could be victimised to a point beyond which she may never recover. And this needs to STOP.
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