Child contract marriages thrive in Old City-Parents to blame

Child contract marriages thrive in Old City-Parents to blame
Highlights

Child contract marriages thrive in Old City, Child contract marriages, Child marriages. In just four months this year, 7 cases of contract marriages have been registered, including the case of Rashid, who is a sheikh from Oman.

A 61-year old man was arrested from his guest house in Banjara Hills on Friday after a 14-year old girl, with the help of her uncle, filed a complaint against him. The victim reported that her family forced her to marry an Oman national named Rashid and that she was being sexually exploited by him. This incident sadly portrays the prevalence of the unpardonable practice of child marriages in the city, especially in the Old City, for many years now

In just four months this year, 7 cases of contract marriages have been registered, including the case of Rashid, who is a sheikh from Oman. Most of the victims have been children in the age group of 12-17. Some 13 people have been arrested so far for the crime. From 2009 to 2012, some 74 cases of contract marriages were registered and 141 people had been arrested. Sadly, this is only the tip of an iceberg, because a majority of the cases go unreported.

While the practice of child marriage is strictly prohibited by the law until the age of 18 and 21 years of age respectively for girls and boys, this is not a crime under the Muslim Personal Law (Sharia). The Sharia law only states that a girl can be wedded after she attains puberty. With the Supreme Court, refusing to interfere with Sharia, which is pronounced by the religious court, authorities are finding it hard to pursue a case.

The crime of child contract marriages has somewhat followed a similar pattern. Arab nationals from the Middle-East marry minors, on contract basis, and divorce them within 15-20 days of marriage after sexually exploiting them and abandon them with their parents. The spine-chilling aspect is that the parents are aware of the consequences of such marriages. The reason they don’t interfere is due the lure of money. Most of the victims’ families hail from lower income groups. About 30 per cent of all the minority groups in the Old City fall below the poverty line.

These families, who cannot afford a decent wedding for their daughters, knowingly get them married to the Arab nationals for the windfall that is offered to them.

‘Meher’ is a mandatory amount paid by the groom to the bride and her family at the time of marriage for their needs.

“The money usually gets divided into five shares between the Qazi who solemnises the marriage; the area broker (mostly women); local leader and the agent who gets the foreign groom,” says Jameela Nishat, director of Shaheen, an NGO working for the welfare of women and prevention of child marriages.

“The money involved in each contract marriage generally ranges from Rs 50,000 to Rs 80,000. If the girl is fair, delicate and good looking, the price may go up to Rs 1.5 lakh,” says Shaheen Sultana, a member of Shaheen.

“The Arab nationals, who are generally 60-75 years old, prefer young girls aged 12-16 years, but not above 18,” she added. The Arabs who stay in lodges or guest houses in the city, desert the young girls after sexually exploiting them. They flee before their visa expires.

On this, Shaheen says, “The girls are cruelly exploited by the grooms, who even take potent drugs and abuse them sexually throughout the night. This continues all through their stay here. The inhuman acts will be evident by the damage caused to the body of the bride.”

Commenting on the story, Sarvasreshta Tripathi, DCP, South Zone, said, “There is a nexus is among hotel employees, auto rickshaw drivers, parents, brokers and qazis. They identify the Arab visitors and provide them whatever they want.”

He added that it was important that the public are informed and made aware to inform police in case of such marriages.

A counsellor from Integrated Child Protection Board (IPCB), who didn’t want to be named, said that as soon as the board receives complaints of a child marriage being performed, it immediately intimates the Child Development Project Officer, who counsels the parents of the bride.

“If the parents remain adamant on the issue, the board informs the police who then rescue the young bride,” she added.

“However, this intervention would be successful only if the case of child marriage is registered at least 15 days prior to the marriage. Otherwise the board’s intervention is usually met with violent consequences,” the counsellor explained.

The IPCB conducts various awareness programs regarding the issue, especially in villages, where child marriages are prevalent. The board also encourages school teachers to pass information regarding child marriages, if any.

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