Wednesday, November 3, 2010

J&K : Marriage Practice Victimizes Young Girls, Society.

By : Salman Nizami.

Most girls dream about falling in love, getting married in a beautiful dress, and having a family. But for thousands of young kashmiri girls, and thousand more across state of Jammu and kashmir, marriage often comes before they are old enough for such dreams and ends in nightmare. Shaista , for example, is an Kashmiri girl from Uri of Baramulla district .Although just 17, she has been married for three years. Shaista tells that becoming a wife at the tender age of 14, being forced to serve her husband's family, and having virtually no say in her own life have taken a heavy toll on her. So heavy, she says, that she tried to escape by taking her own life.She survived the attempt, and has been recovering at a local hospital. "I was so angry that I wanted to kill myself," she says, asking that her surname not be used. "I didn't have a knife, I didn't have any drug to inject into myself, so I decided to set myself on fire. Using gasoline was the easiest way." The issue of child marriages has already affected more than 50 million girls world wide according to UNICEF. Another example is from Mahu Mangit area of tehsil Banihal , during my recent visit to this farflung area of Jammu province I met the village head of the area Farooq Ahmed who showed me the family of Nishat, Farooq introduced me to Nishat’s 35 year-old husband , Choudhary Jamaat Ali sitting next his visibly horror-stricken fiancee, Nishat. She is barely 15 years old. I also saw her two daughters sleeping in a small room included with a kitchen in which four people sleep packed together.

According to Ezabir Ali of J&K Voluntary health and development association and ATHWAS a group working for women’s rights in Kashmir , Child marriages are a reaction to extreme poverty, they mainly take place in rural areas where poor families see daughters as a burden and for money the girls are forced into marriages. The girls are given into the "care" of a husband, and many of them end up abused. Morever, they are often under pressure to bear children, but the risk of death during pregnancy or childbirth for girls under 14 is five times higher than for adult women. According to the women’s activists 40 percent of Jammu and kashmir marriages involve girls under 16. They say up to 60 percent of marriages in the state are either forced or arranged. And the problem is particularly acute in poverty-stricken rural areas.

In such places, many girls are forced into marriages when they are as young as ten or eleven, says Ezabir Ali, Most marry far older men , some in their 60s ,whom they meet for the first time at their wedding. So young are some girls, she says, that they hold onto their toys during the wedding ceremony. And they usually become mothers in their early teens, while they are still children themselves. "When we speak with girls who married very young, they usually say, 'It feels like we didn't have a life, we didn't have childhood,' Ezabir says. "These girls don't even remember their wedding day because they were so young. They say, 'We had a wedding, but we didn't even understand what the ceremony meant.' Women and children's rights activists in state say the marriages are imposed on young girls for a variety of reasons. In J&K villages, it's considered dishonourable for families for daughters to meet and date boys. Some parents try to marry their daughters as soon as possible to avoid such a prospect. A lack of security during the Kashmir conflict , and the risk of kidnapping and rape, has also prompted many families to force their young daughters into marriage. And widespread poverty still compels many parents to get their daughters married to avoid the cost of caring for them.

According to Ezabir, most men who marry young girls are much older and wealthier, and they pay significant amounts of money to the families of the young brides. Young marriages have contributed to high rates of death among women, infant mortality, and particularly maternal deaths. Dr. Naseer a senior gynaecologist in GMC Hospital in Srinagar, says that shortly after being married, many young girls are admitted to hospital in a state of shock from serious physical injuries and psychological trauma. "Some of these girls suffer irreversible physical damage," Hassas tells RFE/RL. "They suffer from tearing and extensive bleeding. Besides, they usually come to hospital too late after massive bleeding, and in a state of shock. We have personally seen many such cases."

Deepika Thusoo , of Child rights and you (CRY) a NGO working in 18 states of India including J&K, says it is a tragedy for J&K society that "young girls who are supposed to be thinking about toys, books, and cartoons are being forced to become wives, to serve their husbands' families, and bear a child." Deepika says many parents, teachers, and local leaders take part in workshops and meetings organized by her and other NGOs in states remote towns and villages. But she and other activists harbor few illusions: It will take years, perhaps a generation, to root out the tradition of child marriages.