Is Child Marriage a Muslim Problem?

Laxmi SargaraLaxmi Sargara, 18, holds her certificate of the annullment of her marriage outside the court Tuesday in Jodhpur, India.

Loons often attribute child marriages exclusively to Muslims, but a Unicef report says 47 percent of married women in India wed before age 18. Unicef also says 40 percent of the world’s child marriages take place in secular, Hindu-majority India.

As this map clearly shows, the practice is widespread in many parts of the world, most notably in parts of Africa:

Child Marriage Map

Disregarding anthropology (the comparative study of human societies) and eager to pin every social ill on Islam, anti-Muslim activists portray child marriage as unique to Muslim communities, and cite Islamic Law as a major obstacle to ending the practice. In fact, most Muslim-majority countries have legal age limits for marriage comparable to Western countries. According to the United Nations, in Algeria, Bangladesh, Iraq, Jordan, Malaysia, and Morocco, the legal age a female can marry is 18, and in Tunisia, it’s 20.  Most of the remaining Muslim-majority countries have ages set for females ranging from 15-17, and in all of these countries, the age for boys is either the same or slightly higher. India has also set the legal limit to age 18, but as is the case in many countries, the law is difficult to enforce, especially in rural areas, where historical, cultural, and economic factors often outweigh legal restrictions.

Akha Teej  is considered an auspicious day, when one does not have to consult any astrologer. This is the best time for marriages … Even our epics mention about child marriages. There is no harm in performing it, as the children do not live together and stay together only after attaining adulthood. ~ Priest in Rajasthan, Al Jazeera

Recently police and administration officials were injured when they were attacked by a group of villagers conducting child marriages in Rajasthan on the holy day of Akshaya Tritiya. Now a young Indian woman has won a landmark case that challenges the culture of child weddings. (h/t: Zangia)

Indian baby bride Laxmi Sargara wins annulment in landmark case

By msnbc.com staff

An Indian woman who was a baby bride has had her 17-year marriage legally annulled in a ground-breaking case challenging the culture of child weddings, Agence France Presse reported Wednesday.

Laxmi Sargara was 1 year old when she was married to a 3-year-old boy named Rakesh in the desert state of Rajasthan in northwestern India, the French news agency said. Their families decided that when they grew up they would live together and have children.

Child marriages, outlawed in India in 1929, are still common in many parts of the country, especially in rural and poorer communities, AFP said. A Unicef report says 47 percent of married women in India wed before age 18. Unicef also says 40 percent of the world’s child marriages take place in India.

“I was unhappy about the marriage,” Sargara, now 18, told AFP. “I told my parents who did not agree with me, then I sought help. Now I am mentally relaxed and my family members are also with me.”

Girls married off in infancy often remain in their parents’ homes until they reach puberty and then are taken amid great celebrations to their husbands’ families, AFP said. When Sargara just days ago discovered that she was married and would be sent to her husband’s home this week, she sought advice from social worker Kriti Bharti, who runs the children’s rights group Sarathi Trust, AFP said.

Bharti negotiated with Rakesh, the groom, who only uses one name, and both families to persuade them that the marriage was unfair, AFP reported. “It is the first example we know of a couple wed in childhood wanting the marriage to be annulled, and we hope that others take inspiration from it,” Bharti told AFP.

Rakesh, an earth-mover driver, at first wanted to press ahead with the relationship but was convinced by Sargara’s fierce opposition that the marriage should be revoked, Bharti said. The marriage was annulled through a joint legal document signed by the bride and groom and validated by a public official in Jodhpur, AFP said.

“To ensure that the girl does not face any problem in future, we decided to go for a legal agreement,” said Indu Chaupra, local director of the ministry of women and child development, told AFP.

The annulment coincided with the Akshaya Tritiya festival, a traditional date for mass child weddings. On Sunday, villagers in Rajasthan attacked and injured at least 12 government officials who tried to stop a wedding of about 40 child couples, AFP said. A recent survey found that 10 percent of girls in Rajasthan are married off before the age of 18, the BBC reported.

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