Rajasthan Rising – The Grassroot Movement Challenging Child Marriage in Rajasthan State, India.
The Detrimental Effects of Child Marriage
Child marriage is the formal or informal union that takes place before one or both of the participants are 18. The term has become synonymous with the coercion of young girls into marriages where abuse is commonplace. Marrying at a young age has many negative consequences for women and society in general. It places young girls in situations where she is more at a risk of violence whilst also isolating from her normal support networks. Additionally, the traditional role she is expected to assume once married violates her rights to education and health. This is because she is more likely to drop out of school to take over the duties in the home, and has an increased chance of suffering complications or even death due to undergoing pregnancy too young. The practice also separates her from family and other forms of support which can negatively impact her emotional and mental well-being.
Gender Inequality and Poverty Underpins Child Marriage
Poverty is one of the major driving factors that lead to child marriage. 40% of girls in the world’s poorest countries marry below the age of 18 (Girls, not Brides, 2021). In many cultures, marriage is seen as a way to reduce the burden of poverty through economic gains, sometimes in the form of a dowry or bride price.
These practices have their roots in gender inequality, essentially the belief that a girl or woman has less value than a man. This manifests in how a girl’s and women’s roles in society are represented. For example; the positioning of daughters as ‘assets’ to their future in-laws means that a girl’s education is often not prioritised. Additionally, she may be assigned caregiving and household chores in line with traditional expectations, this then detrimentally impacts her schooling by drawing her time away from learning.
Globally, an estimated 650 million girls and women were married below the age of 18. The pandemic is set to add another 10 million to this number by the end of the decade (UNICEF, 2021). Job loss and heightened economic insecurity are pushing families further into poverty where child marriage might seem the only viable solution. Further to this. School shutdowns and imposed isolation from networks of support via lockdowns make it harder to mitigate against the practice as it becomes more hidden.
India – High Percentage of Child Marriages Still Occur
India is one of the countries where child marriage is still prevalent in some areas. Even though the percentage of young girls getting married has declined from 47% to 27% over the last decade, India still accounts for a third of child marriages worldwide (UNICEF, 2021). Child rights activists in India have recorded an increase in cases related to child marriage due to Covid-19. Childline India reported a 17% increase in distress calls related to child marriage just after India’s first lockdown in June 2020 (BBC, 2020). Activists in Karnataka State concerned with the rise in child marriages have noted that now often marriages occur in more hidden locations, such as the home. Before the pandemic, such marriages would usually occur in wedding halls or temples. The new hidden nature of the practice is making it increasingly difficult to intervene or undertake preventative measures.
The Grassroots Movement Fighting for Change in Rajasthan
India’s Rajasthan State is no stranger to child marriage. Government data shows that a third of all women were married before the age of 18 (NFHS, 2016). However, 18-year-old Bairwa refused to become part of this statistic. When faced with her marriage, Bairwa fought back and started a movement of young women and girls known as Rajasthan Rising. The movement organizes rallies to campaign for rights to free education, freedom from child marriage, and other gendered issues. Bairwa started the movement with just 10 of her friends, initially campaigning against child marriage with a focus on her caste, Dalit, considered the lowest caste in India.
The movement has grown now to become a formal alliance with thousands of members across Rajasthan State. These campaigns are already starting to be noted by local village leaders as well as regional political leaders such as Karaulis education office Ganpat Lal Meena. As girls become more aware of their rights they are becoming more assertive and active in obtaining them. The hope and future for Rajasthan Rising, and other grassroots movements, is to make the issue of child marriage a national priority and thereby facilitate a shift towards ending the practice in India.
Bansal, V,. ‘Rajasthan Rising, marginalised girls fight child marriage’ http://www.amiedmewat.org/RajasthanRisingNews.pdf
Girls, not Brides, (2021) Why it happens https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/about-child-marriage/why-child-marriage-happens/
The Hindu Times, (8th March 2021) 5 countries including India account for about half of total child brides in world: UNICEF https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/5-countries-including-india-account-for-about-half-of-total-child-brides-in-world-unicef/article34019696.ece
Deepika, K.C, (12th May 2021) Activists in Karnataka fear child marriages may go unnoticed during lockdown https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/activists-in-karnataka-fear-child-marriages-may-go-unnoticed-during-lockdown/article34545410.ece
BBC, (2020) India’s Covid crises sees rise in child marriage and trafficking https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-54186709
National Family Health Survey, (2015-2016) Rajasthan http://rchiips.org/nfhs/NFHS-4Reports/Rajasthan.pdf
Bhatt, N,. (13th July 2021) ‘We can do anything: the Indian girls’ movement fighting child marriage https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/jul/13/the-indian-girls-movement-fighting-child-marriage
UNICEF, (2021) Ending child marriage and adolescent empowerment https://www.unicef.org/india/what-we-do/end-child-marriage