Is Child Marriage a Form of Trafficking?

Source: India RealTime

Days before law professor Michele Goodwin was set to speak in Chicago about why child marriage persists widely in India despite almost a century of legislation, a heart-warming story made the rounds.

Child Marriages in IndiaLaxmi Sargara, an 18-year-old who was married to another child when she was a baby, rebelled when her in-laws came to take her away from her family. She eventually got the marriage annulled – though that may not be quite the right term for an act that wasn’t legal in the first place.

Advocates against child marriage hailed her bravery. But in the paper that Ms. Goodwin presented last Friday, she noted that the triumphs that catch international attention represent just a fraction of child marriages, which are still extremely widespread in India.

According to a major recent survey by the Ministry of Health, which covered 700,000 households between 2007 and 2008, 43% of the married women in the age group of 20-24 had been child brides. The legal age for a girl to marry in India is 18 – marriages below that age are considered child marriage.

“There is real competition in law in India, between federal law and the law of custom,” said Ms. Goodwin, in an interview last week.

For uneducated girls, the average age of marriage is around age 15, according to the United Nations child rights group Unicef, citing figures from a national survey conducted between 2005 and 2006.

After field research conducted over two years in both urban and rural areas of several Indian states – including in Bihar, where nearly 70% of young brides said they married before they were 18 – Ms. Goodwin said she has come to view child marriage in India as a form of human trafficking.

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