The "Nation Against Early Marriage" (Desh Viruddh Bal Vivah) campaign launched today by human rights organisation 'Breakthrough' has roped in Bollywood actor Irfaan Khan, who urges people to stop marrying off their daughters below 18 years of age.
"Don't get your daughter married off early. She could be faced with violence and she could be raped, she could be sexually violated," says Khan in a 40 second public service announcement, which is set to be aired on TV and other social media over the next few months.
Advocates of the campaign said they wanted to bring about an attitude change among the rural mileu, especially, men, husbands, fathers and to-be husbands and male elders who make the decisions around early marriages.
"We have found that child marriage and violence are linked to each other. So it becomes necessary to talk about it as a key social issue and not club it with other women's issues like child mortality or malnutrition. It is basically a call for men and dads to understand the enormity of the problem," Sonali Khan, Vice-President of Breakthrough, India said.
According to experts, health of child brides are compromised due to early and frequent exposure to sexual relations, pregnancies and childbirth. Early marriage also affects the education of girls, their status and mobility. At present, the campaign is being implemented in two districts in Jharkhand and one in Bihar, where the rights organisation conducted a survey.
Findings of the survey peg the rate of early marriage in rural Bihar at 69.6 per cent and in Jharkhand as 58.1 per cent. "We found out that a lot of reasons perpetuate the practice of child marriage. Absence of proper educational facilities, fear of 'evil eye', poverty, constant insecurity about the girl child's safety and family honor and viewing them as a burden all add on to the belief of child marriage in our country," said Anusha Ramachandran from Praxis, a research organisation.
In Ranchi, Hazaribagh and Gaya (which reported the highest incidents of child marriage), volunteers work with middle and high school students in multifaceted campaings like folk theatre dramas on field trainings and mobile radio programmes. The Centre's Ministry of Women and Child Development is also collaborating in the campaign.
According to UNFPA, 60 million girls have been forced to become brides with nearly 30 million belonging to South Asia. If trends continued more than 140 million girls will become child brides, of which at least 18.5 million will be under the age of 15, by the year 2020.