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Tuesday, 14 May, 2002, 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK
Move to stop Indian child marriages
A child marriage in the state of Rajasthan
Unicef says early marriage violates child's rights
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By Jyotsna Singh
BBC reporter in Delhi
line

The authorities in India are gearing up efforts to prevent child marriages on the Hindu auspicious day of Akha Teej which falls on Wednesday.

Thousands of children, including babies, are married on this day despite laws designed to prevent such practices.

District officials and several non-government organisations have been mobilised particularly in the western state of Rajasthan where the tradition is deeply ingrained.

The new effort is part of a week-long campaign led by the National Commission for Women.

Common practice

Marriages of girls under the age of 18 and boys under 21 are illegal in India.

But forced marriages are common, especially in rural areas of Rajasthan.

Social activists say mass marriages of children are frequently ignored by the authorities.

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

A Unicef report last year said millions of children across the world were forced into underage marriage because of poverty.

Other reasons, according to the report, were tradition, and their families' desire to protect them from unwanted sexual advances.

Strategy

The head of the National Commission for Women, Purnima Advani, told the BBC that they were trying to make people aware of the multi-fold risks of child marriage.

Some critics, however, have dismissed the campaign.

They say the problem of child marriage could not be resolved without sustained effort.

Ms Advani said they were working towards a long-term plan including pushing for a law which would make it mandatory for marriages to be registered.

She said once such a law was in place, no marriage would be officially recognised unless couples had a certificate demonstrating that they were over 18-years-old.

See also:

24 Oct 01 | South Asia
Child marriages targeted in India
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