IMPACT

Indian Wedding Vendors Won't Sell To Child Brides In Effort To Curb Practice

"Every little action helps."
Zareena, a Kashmiri Bakarwal bride is seen inside her tent during her wedding ceremony on the outskirts of Srinagar, India, F
Zareena, a Kashmiri Bakarwal bride is seen inside her tent during her wedding ceremony on the outskirts of Srinagar, India, Friday, May 31, 2013. Bakarwals are nomadic herders in Jammu Kashmir state, who wander in search of good pastures for their cattle. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

MUMBAI, May 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Suppliers of wedding tents may not be the most obvious allies in the battle to prevent child marriage, but in India's Rajasthan state they have come together to tackle some of the highest rates of early marriage in the country.

The Tent Dealers Welfare Samiti (Association) of Rajasthan, which has more than 9,000 members, has been demanding to see the birth certificates of the brides and grooms it has been supplying.

In India, the legal age of marriage for a woman is 18 and 21 for a man. The charity Girls Not Brides estimates the rate of child marriage to be as high as 65 percent in Rajasthan and almost 70 percent in the eastern state of Bihar.

The tent dealers association has stopped at least 80 child marriages in Rajasthan in the past two years, its president Ravi Jindal said.

In this Friday, May 6, 2011 photo, a newly married child bride, left, stands at a temple in Rajgarh, about 155 kilometers (96
In this Friday, May 6, 2011 photo, a newly married child bride, left, stands at a temple in Rajgarh, about 155 kilometers (96 miles) from Bhopal, India. Ignoring laws that ban child marriages, several young children, are still married off as part of centuries-old custom in some Indian villages. India law prohibits marriage for women younger than 18 and men under age 21. (AP Photo/Prakash Hatvalne)

"We want to show people that this is wrong, that they should not be doing this," Jindal told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "We complain to the police and the village headman, get them to intervene, so there is pressure on them to not do it."

Despite their efforts, and similar actions by thousands of suppliers across the state, the practice is rampant, he said.

In Rajasthan, a state famed for its palaces and forts, weddings peak during the Akshaya Tritiya festival in April and May, which is considered an auspicious period.

Colourful tents decorated with flowers and lights are often erected for guests to enjoy the wedding feast.

Worldwide, more than 700 million women were married before their 18th birthday, according to a 2014 UNICEF report.

While boys are also married as children, girls are disproportionately affected, it said. Early marriage makes it more likely that girls will drop out of school, and campaigners say it also increases the risks of exploitation, sexual violence, domestic abuse and death in childbirth.

South Asia is home to 42 percent of all child brides worldwide. India alone accounts for one-third of the global total, according to UNICEF.

Raja,16, and 15-year-old child bride Sintu look on at the Balaji temple in Kamkheda village, in the western Indian state of R
Raja,16, and 15-year-old child bride Sintu look on at the Balaji temple in Kamkheda village, in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, Saturday, May 7, 2011. Ignoring laws that ban child marriages, young children are still married off as part of centuries-old custom in some Indian villages. India law prohibits marriage for women younger than 18 and men under age 21. (AP Photo/Prakash Hatvalne)

Child marriage is most common in rural areas and among the poor, where a girl is seen as a financial burden, said Sanjay Sharma, general manager at the Save the Children charity in Rajasthan.

Girls are also married early because of fears for their safety, he said.

"It is not as though people are not aware of the law, that it is not permitted," Sharma said.

"But they say it is their tradition. So every little action helps, be it from the police, from the government or tent suppliers," he said. (Reporting by Rina Chandran, Editing by Katie Nguyen.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)

 

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