Talking against child marriage, Bihar girls impress The Elders

February 9th, 2012 - 5:33 pm ICT by IANS  

Patna, Feb 9 (IANS) Speaking out against child marriage, some youths in Bihar, particularly girls, have impressed The Elders, a visiting group of world leaders led by Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu. The state is believed to have the highest prevalence of child marriage in India.

The Elders, led by anti-apartheid icon Archbishop Tutu of South Africa, were on a two-day visit to the state.

“It was a positive sign that girls were against child marriage as they understood the risks of getting married before adulthood and boys were also not ready to support child marriage,” Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Norway prime minister and ex-director general of WHO, one of The Elders, said after visiting Phulwar village, about 30 km from here, in Patna district.

Tutu, former Ireland president and ex-UN high commissioner for human rights Mary Robinson and Gandhian social activist Ela Bhatt interacted with 20 young boys and girls at the village.

Robinson pointed out that another important element was the rising trend of education among girls. “Most of the girls told members of The Elders that they are eager to pursue studies and want to join college before marriage,” she said.

Bhatt said girls in Bihar are fully aware of the risks of child marriage. “It will help us fight against child marriages,” she said.

Bhatt, the founder of India’s Self Employed Women’s Association, said The Elders will fight against child marriage in Bihar.

However, The Elders were unhappy with the prevailing situation in India with regard to child marriages. They have expressed concern over the high rate of child marriage in Bihar and urged people, the civil society and the government to work to end the age-old practice.

Tutu said The Elders will launch a campaign against social evils like child marriage in the state. “We have selected to visit Bihar as the state happens to be one of the Indian states with the highest prevalence (69 percent) of marriage among girls under 18,” he said.

It is illegal for girls under 18 and boys under 21 to marry in India.

“There are many loopholes in the implementation of Indian laws on child marriage. The aspirations of politicians have led to laws, but there are many gaps in practice. Births, deaths and marriages are not registered. There is a need to encourage positive schemes for overall development,” Brundtland said.

Tutu said The Elders want to appeal to male leaders of developing countries that “unless we set our women free, we will remain backwards”.

The Elders members met Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who assured them of initiating measures to eradicate child marriage in the state during the visit Tuesday-Wednesday.

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