“I cannot take the risk; there is so much violence and my daughter may be hurt”…such comments were common amongst parents (both fathers and mothers) in several villages of Sonipat and Panipat districts of Haryana. Nearly 72% of households surveyed confirmed that they would marry off their daughters soon after she attains puberty, for such fears of harassment (http://www.pria.org/knowledge_res_details.php?artid=3044&id=24). In a way, they would rather shift the ‘burden of protection’ of the young girl away from the father to the husband.
Child marriage is still prevalent in India; nearly half the girls are still getting married off before they turn 18, legally permissible age limit. One in 3 girls is married off under-age around the world, with percentages much higher in western African countries. The practice of child brides is most pronounced in Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand and UP.
Most studies have largely focused on traditional norms and poverty as two main causes of continued practice of marrying off under-age girls. But, the contemporary phenomenon of the ‘fear for security of girls’ is becoming an increasingly important factor. Girls are not safe in their communities; they face sexual harassment in schools, colleges, on the streets, shopping centres…everywhere. Parents feel scared about the safety of girls in public spheres; girls themselves are many-a-times afraid to go out to college or work. Safety in mobility is one of the major constraints faced by girls even when they are ready to go out and join the labour force.
Today is ‘Equal Pay Day’ which focuses the attention of trade unions, employers and governments to ensure that there is no gender discrimination in pay for similar work. While much of public discourse on gender discrimination in compensation gives examples of differentials in prize money for tennis championships or fees paid to Bollywood actors, the harsh reality of everyday life is that fear of sexual harassment and violence excludes a large number of women from even joining the labour market.
Struggle for gender equality for young girls must begin even before the ‘pay day’. Child marriages can be prevented if public sphere is safe for them, and they can continue their studies, and enjoin economic participation. Campaigns like KBC (http://marthafarrellfoundation.org/Campaigns.html) can be an anti-dote to child marriage of girls in many locations.
Making our neighbourhoods, schools/colleges and workplaces safe for girls and women is practicing feminism in everyday life. Let fathers, brothers and other men take a lead!