Silimi is a remote village in Gudari block of Rayagada district in Odisha. There are 65 households in this Dalit hamlet. A discussion on the issue of child marriage on any day could witness 30 child brides before any meeting. Most of the child brides have one or two kids in their laps. Most of them had never enrolled in schools whereas few were school dropped out.
Complicacy during pregnancy due to child marriage already took six lives during last two years in the village.
A senior lady on a corner told that there was no way out!
Pointing finger towards a 14 years girl, the lady said my daughter passed out 8th standard this year.
The lady said her daughter had a strong desire to continue her education but not been possible for her drunkard father who was unemployed.
“Our condition is such that we are forced to stay in a polythene roofed house,” the lady said.
She questioned in such a condition from where she could arrange the fee for her daughter’s admission to the next class.
This would force her daughter out of schools which could eventually lead to elopement or forced marriage.
In reality – this is not a standalone example. There are many such instances in a state like Odisha.
In Odisha, Malkangiri, Nabarangpur, Koraput, and Rayagada are child marriage prone districts that have a higher percentage than the national percentage.
Around 27 % girl child is getting married before the legal age in India, according to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) – 4.
In the above-mentioned districts, the percentage level for child marriage stood at 39%, 38%, 35% and 34% respectively. The national survey also said around 12% in Malkangiri, 11% in Nabarangpur, 14.5% in Koraput and 13% in Rayagada that girl children complete 10 or more years of formal schooling.
As reflected in Census 2011, the percentage of child marriage is 52% in case of the girl child dropped out within 5 years of schooling, whereas the drop out for girl children level was reduced to 30 % in case they continue 9 years of schooling.
For those who have completed 10 years of schooling, the percentage of child marriage is further reduced to 9.3%.
These facts established education as one among the prime factors in child marriage.
The RTE Act provides scopes for a free and compulsory education up to the age of 14. But due to apathetic attitude – it is not being implemented with letter and spirit.
The School and Mass Education Department is yet to bring clarity to the status of out of school children.
Ensuring education at least up to the age of 18 will capacitate the individual to explore her dream and build the courage to bargain for her life. The ability to freedom of expression will strengthen the adolescents and youth to say ‘NO to Child Marriage’.
The writer is a development worker based in Odisha. He may be contacted at 9438341794 or over mail at firstname.lastname@example.org