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With poor sex education, the pressure to marry early, and low autonomy over their own bodies, young girls are left to face the challenge of teenage pregnancies.
According to the Indian Penal Code, child marriage in India is not illegal. However, arranging or organizing a child marriage is illegal. Yes, the IPC can be really confusing at times.
Let me give you an example; consider two families in a village who are arranging a marriage between their minor children, and have even hired a priest to officiate. At the marriage ceremony, the two families, the priest and all the guests are participants or witnesses to the crime and therefore can be arrested if the police intervene during the marriage.
However, as soon as the entire ceremony gets over and the marriage is complete, the marriage will be considered legal. While solemnizing a child marriage is a cognizable offense under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, there are enough loopholes that in practice, all the parties, i.e., the parents, priest or attending guests, will walk away free.
Moreover, the minor wife cannot lodge a case or a complaint until she reaches the age of 18 years. Even after she turns 18, she only has a window of 2 years within which she can file a case for annulment. However, after this period of 2 years has passed, the marriage can no longer be annulled and divorce is the only way out, the process of which can be extremely tedious under the Indian judicial system.
Teenage pregnancy: Do girls really have choices?
The practice of child marriage is so deeply entrenched in Indian society that it is normalized and not seen as a bane in many parts of the country. We cannot deny that in the second decade of the 21st century, the girl child is treated as a social and economic liability and marriage perceived as the easiest way of getting rid of this liability.
The only way to tackle this problem is through grass-root level sensitization and incentive based awareness to parents and children. Teenage pregnancy is another problem related to child marriage and can also be viewed independently.
In the case of married teenage mothers-to-be, they may have limited autonomy to access any facilities provided by the state. It is well known that owing to their poor social status, teenaged mothers in many families often receive poor nourishment. Moreover, unmarried pregnancy is seen as a taboo and therefore in such cases, the young mother neither receives benefits from the state nor societal support.
The ‘Plan for every child – Leave No Girl Behind’ campaign by Plan India aims to incorporate the opinions of young people as the opinions of active citizens. India constitutes about 19% of the world’s population of children. More than 40% of this population of children are underprivileged in some form or the other and the campaign aims to bridge this gap. In order to achieve this, Plan realized that it is imperative to take the voices and opinions of the youth into account.
Young people want sex education, not lectures!
As part of this initiative, a Youth Advisory Panel (YAP) was created which included the voices of the youth across the entire region. During a 3-day debatathon that I attended in Guwahati, discussions, and deliberations were held around pregnancy and safe sex as well as on including sex education in school curriculum.
One of the key issues that the participants discussed was the need to support teen mothers rather than be judgmental of them. Several real-life cases from the region were given and discussed, and this was seen as an important issue given that teen pregnancy rates in the last 5 years have increased exponentially in the northeast.
Sound and viable solutions were put forward by the Plan for Every Child Youth Advisory Panel (YAP). A few points from the charter were:
The YAP prepared the charter that contained these feasible solutions based on the discussions and debates they held. Such youth led perspectives are much needed on this social issue. With teenage pregnancy being an issue that impacts young people, it is their voices that need to be amplified rather than older people preaching to them.
This charter would be shared at a national conference in New Delhi and presented to policy makers and government officials – bringing youth voices to those in power is essential if we are to frame policies that actually enable young people to develop to their fullest potential.
If you would like to be a part of this initiative, and help create a more just world for all our girls, learn more about this initiative and you can become a volunteer or donate to support Plan India’s valuable work.
This article is part of the #LeaveNoGirlBehind campaign supported by Plan India, of which Women’s Web is a proud media partner.