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Wednesday, April 29, 1998 Published at 16:58 GMT 17:58 UK


Child brides marry in Rajasthan
image: [ Mina, 8, with Sukhram, 22, right, and his family members, after their marriage ]
Mina, 8, with Sukhram, 22, right, and his family members, after their marriage

By the end of Wednesday April 29, thousands of girls, some as young as six months old, will be married to older boys in controversial ceremonies across the north Indian state of Rajasthan. The weddings are an annual event, part of the festival of Akhai Teej, and they are illegal. The authorities and various social activists have been trying to stop them for years, but as the BBC's India correspondent, Daniel Lak, reports, they have been largely unsuccessful.

Village families across Rajasthan have been taking their girl children to their own weddings. Even babies are getting married as part of the annual festival known as Akhai Teej.

All over India this is considered an auspicious day for marriage, but only in Rajasthan is there such a large number of weddings involving children.

The authorities have banned the practice, even raided wedding parties in an effort to stop the marriages.

They have mounted campaigns to encourage poor families to participate in mass marriages of sons and daughters over the age of 18, to save on the cost of dowries and wedding arrangements.

Women's groups and social activists have gone to villages to urge people not to marry off their young daughters. But the efforts appear to have been largely in vain.

Now there are attempts to encourage families to delay the date when the married daughters leave home to join their husbands, when the marriages are actually consummated.

Activists want that to be delayed until the woman is at least 18, but this move is not proving to be successful as rural poverty puts pressure on families to transfer the economic cost of a daughter to another family as soon as possible.

Child marriage is expected to continue in Rajasthan for some time.

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