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Shocking! Kerala becomes hub of child marriages; over 22,000 young mothers are under 19 years

Another gray area outside the state is the flourishing trade of the marriage industry in the state that has begun to conduct marriages into ‘prestigious events’ to suit every possible budget, particularly the rich and the super-rich.

A disturbing statistic from Kerala! The state, renowned for its high literacy rate, has sent shock waves across the country as the data indicates that child marriage is prevalent in the state. According to the report published by the state’s economics and statistics department, the state has 22,552 young mothers, who are aged below 19 years! Another shocking statistic is that about 137 mothers in rural areas gave birth to a second baby before the age of 19 years and eleven mothers who are below the age of 15. A closer look at the urban areas in the state shows that 298 mothers had their second baby before turning 19 and 21 mothers had their third child before reaching 19 years of age.

In recent years, the increasing number of local news reports pertaining to child marriage from Kerala had been a cause of concern yet a grave issue such as this has not been debated or discussed sufficiently to create public awareness. When you break up the data community-wise, the patterns show that 17,082 mothers from the total number mentioned above, within 15 to 19 years, belong to the Muslim community, 4734 belong to Hindu community and 792 to Christian. While the data is from 2017, the report has been published in February 2019.

One of the reasons can be attributed to religion, a fact pointed out by Shoba Koshy, the former chairperson of Kerala State Commission for protection of Child Rights, in one of her statements to Manorama. She had pointed out that religion plays a very critical role in the prevalence of child marriages in the state. Further to this, Shobha Koshy also pointed out that it is parents who force their children into early marriages, fearing that a girl who crosses the age of 18 years may choose an undesirable spouse. In a rush, the parents finalise a marriage before she reaches the legal age to choose her own husband.

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Another gray area outside the state is the flourishing trade of the marriage industry in the state that has begun to conduct marriages into ‘prestigious events’ to suit every possible budget, particularly the rich and the super-rich.

The lack of a proper administrative crackdown ecosystem also contributes to the confidence of stakeholders that arrange these marriages. A firm and decisive role can also be played by the government to create campaigns in districts where the practice is prevalent and spread awareness through celebrity ambassadors to make parents, society and people understand the gravity and legal and medical implications of such marriages, particularly for the girl child. However, the grim reality is that very little is happening on the ground to change mistaken perceptions and child marriages are likely to continue in the state.

As marriage related costs shoot up every passing year, most parents are keen to marry off their daughters before it becomes almost impossible to conduct their marriage. Most gold loan lenders also cash in and partner with the flourishing marriage industry as rampant gold-giving transactions are a part of every marriage ceremony irrespective of the community a girl belongs to.

A UNICEF report in 2014 had earlier pointed out the disturbing trend of child marriages in Kerala, citing that it is an area of concern as this was not a prevalent practice in the southern state.

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Source: Financial Express