BHILWARA, RAJASTHAN: : Four minor girls – including three sisters and a cousin, the youngest among them two years old – were allegedly married off by their mother and close relatives in a secret ceremony in Ghajuna village of Rajasthan’s Bhilwara district, on February 23.
The police arrested three people earlier this week after the sisters’ uncle, opposed to the marriage, complained to the district authorities about it. As evidence, he provided photographs of the secret ceremony to the police in which marriage rites are being performed on young boys and girls.
The girls’ father had died a year back and their mother Parsi Devi arranged the marriages, the complainant Kupa Rawal told the police. The ceremonies were scheduled for February 25 to be held on the same day as a death feast for an elder in the family. In Rajasthan villages, young girls are sometimes married off when a death feast is held in the family, in mass ceremonies, to cut down expenses.
Mr Rawal said he went to his sister in law Ms Devi’s maternal home and told her not to marry off her young daughters. He claimed that he even promised to financially help with their marriages when they became adults but Ms Devi did not listen to him. “If they are married off young, their future is at stake. The children get caught in a backwardness they cannot escape,” Mr Rawal said.
Afraid Mr Rawal would complain, the girls were allegedly married off two days ahead of schedule. The district administration, alerted earlier by Mr Rawal, visited the wedding venue on February 25 but found no evidence of a child marriage taking place. It was only when a guest at the weddings shared pictures that the secret was revealed.
Devi Singh Rawat, sub divisional magistrate, Bhilwara, said, “The uncle is the complainant in this case and he provided information. Prima facie the child marriage took place and we have registered an FIR and asked the police to take action.”
But in the little girls’ maternal home were the weddings allegedly took place, family members told NDTV only a death feast had been held on February 25. Laddu Nath, the children’s maternal uncle, said, “There was no wedding here. It was only a feast that was organised for a religious function.”
The 2006 law against child marriage provides for two years of punishment by imprisonment to anybody who organises or participates in a child marriage. But the law does not declare these marriages void leaving the option for children to exercise when they become adults.
Anita Bhadel, Rajasthan’s women and child welfare minister said the government is making efforts to improve the position of girl children in the society so people do not marrying them off early. “The day a daughter is born the Shubha Lakshmi Yojana with a financial incentive is launched, girl children get free education in government schools,” Ms Bhadel said.
“And, because child marriages are often held to avoid the later expense of having to give a dowry, the government has given financial incentives to people who get children married after the age of 18 in mass marriage ceremonies,” she added.
According to the 2011 census, 15 per cent of the girls in the state are married off before the age of 18. But most estimates also say these numbers could be higher as most of these cases go unreported due to social pressure.
Child marriages often lead to young girls being forced to drop out of school and early pregnancies. The high incidence of maternal and infant mortality in Rajasthan is related to under age marriages, experts say.