When 15-year-old Pinky Kumari refused to be married off to a 22-year-old widowed man, her story brought to light the ever-present issue of child marriage in India and the deep-seated problems of patriarchy, class, and caste norms that go with it.
Kumari, along with the help of 30 of her female schoolmates, traveled to a police station where they reported the illegal impending nuptials. This prompted Indian police officers to go to her village and convince her parents to cancel the wedding.
“It was heartening to learn that after being counselled by our officers, Kumari’s orthodox family voluntarily stalled the wedding and promised to wait for their daughter to attain the marriageable age,” said Garima Mallik, the superintendent for Gaya police. “The girl’s courage and resolve were laudable.”
Despite child marriage being outlawed by the Indian government with the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006, which outlines that girls must be at least 18 and boys must be at least 21 in order to be wed, the marriages can still be accepted as a traditional practice among certain villages throughout the country.
These early marriages are accepted because of the patriarchal norm of restricting a young woman’s role to that of a daughter, wife, and a mother who are seen as property, according to Girls Not Brides.
A pertinent problematic mindset among villages that still practice child marriage is the belief that unwed daughters are financial burdens and seen to be bringing dishonor to her family.
Anti-child marriage efforts are continuously being drafted and implemented to combat the issue. Campaigns highlighting the importance of young women seeking higher education for a more financially stable future, awareness initiatives, and census analyses are trying to sway the traditional norm of certain villages.
“I knew this marriage is illegal,” Kumari said. “I want to study and complete my education. I tried to convince my parents but they ignored my pleas. I shared my plight with my friends and sought their help. They proved to be my saviour.”
With the inconsistency between anti-child-marriage legislation efforts and the fact that young girls under 18 are still being married off in cities when compared to rural areas, the question remains as to whether or not – if ever – young girls will have the power to dictate the direction their lives take. But rebel icons such as Kumari, who take a stand and refuse to be handed off from father to husband at such an early age, are sure signs that the attitude for this tradition is changing among the girls themselves.
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