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Wednesday, 24 October, 2001, 15:47 GMT 16:47 UK
Child marriages targeted in India
A child marriage in the state of Rajasthan
Child marriages are an ingrained tradition
By the BBC's Alastair Lawson in Delhi

The government in the Indian state of Rajasthan has taken what it says is a significant step towards eradicating the acute problem of child marriages.

It has approved legislation which will make it mandatory for all couples to register with the authorities for their union to be recognised by law.

On auspicious days in the Hindu calendar it is not uncommon for thousands of children, including babies, to be married, despite laws already in place designed to prevent such practices.

The tradition is deeply ingrained in the culture of the state because child marriages are regarded by many as the safest and most tested way of keeping property and money within families.


Girls suffer in particular because they can bring in large sums of dowry money.

An Indian family planning centre
Ministers hope the law will also improve family planning
Mass marriages of children are frequently ignored by the authorities.

They are performed in public and in most cases no attempt is made by the police or schools to stop the ceremonies from taking place.

But under the new proposals no marriage will be officially recognised unless couples have a certificate obtained after registering with the authorities.

The Women's Development Minister in Rajasthan, Zakia Innam, said in an interview with the BBC that the proposals will also improve family planning in the state because they would help reduce the number of under-age pregnancies.

She said that couples who register will also benefit because they will be more mature when they marry.

But it seems unlikely the problem of child marriages in Rajasthan will be stopped in the immediate future.

The cabinet's proposals still need to be approved by the state assembly, and that will not be until next March.

And experts warn that even when the new law is approved, many under-age couples will still marry without bothering to register with the authorities.

See also:

20 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
China to execute bride traffickers
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