Think back to the time when you were 16 years old: Would you have been ready to become a bride or groom and enter into an arranged marriage?
Wife, mother… and still a teenager!
I met Hyma in a small village in the Thar Desert/ Rajasthan where she lives with her husband’s family clan. She invited me to her mud hut where she spoiled me with homemade Dal and Chapati. When I saw the toddler in the hut, I assumed it was her little brother and she was looking after him whilst her Mum was out. But with non-verbal communication Hyma explained proudly that the small boy was her son! I was surprised and confused at the same time: Hyma looked so innocent and young! Never did I think the baby was hers! She reached her baby out to me and suddenly, holding her son, I felt much less mature and responsible than her who was a teenage Mum.
In India, 27% of girls get married before their 18th birthday. This is the highest rate of child brides in the world.
As far as we know from Indian history, many years ago women and men had a liberal concept of love and they had the freedom to enter into a romantic relationship. This only changed in the Middle Age when liberty became more and more restricted. Women lost their freedom and became subject to family discipline and the honour of their clan.
Girls were considered irresponsible and irrational in love. Thus, parents married them early to avoid any scandal which could soil the honor of the family. The main focus of the marriage arrangement was the compatibility between the two families. Back then Indians believed that if two humans know each other right from childhood this would enhance understanding and affection.
In the 21st century poverty and lack of education are still dominating factors and parents often see an early marriage of their daughter as the only option to secure both their own and their daughter’s future. Even though the country has the largest number of child brides in the world, child marriage has been through a positive change in the last decade: the percentage of girls married before their legal age has actually declined.
Nevertheless, in a few districts of Rajasthan and Bihar for instance, approximately 50% of women and men are still under aged when they get married.