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Child Marriage and Gender Relations in India By Juliana Shulman -Fourth Year in the College at the University of Chicago -Human Rights Intern.

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Presentation on theme: "Child Marriage and Gender Relations in India By Juliana Shulman -Fourth Year in the College at the University of Chicago -Human Rights Intern."— Presentation transcript:

1 Child Marriage and Gender Relations in India By Juliana Shulman -Fourth Year in the College at the University of Chicago -Human Rights Intern

2 A little bit about India… Largest democracy in the world Second most populous country in the world Home to over one billion people Hindi and English are the official languages, but dozens more are spoken The predominant religions are Hinduism, Islam, Christianity Sikhism and Buddhism Independent since 1947 Home to some of the most stunning historical sites Extremely diverse--I will mostly be speaking about one part of India known as Rajasthan

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8 Facts about Rajasthan Over 79% of people live in small, “underdeveloped” rural villages These villages often lack schools, roads, running water, medical care, reliable electricity, etc. Heavily reliant on the environment. A migrant culture Less than 5% of women are literate

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10 Facts about Rajasthan One-third of Indian adult women are underweight Over 47% of Indian children suffer from malnutrition The risk of dying between the ages of one and five is 43% higher for girls than for boys

11 Child Marriage

12 Throughout the world… Child marriage--a marriage in which one of the spouses (most often, the wife) is below the age of eighteen when the marriage is consummated Child marriage is common in India, Indonesia, various countries in sub- Saharan Africa In India, traditionally, the girl is “given” to her husband once she has her first period and is ready to bear children--often, in practice, she is given earlier

13 In India… Child marriage has been illegal for decades, but it is still extremely prevalent in certain regions In Rajasthan, nearly 80% of marriages are among girls under the age of fifteen Overall, almost 50% of girls are married by age eighteen

14 Marriage in India Arranged marriage is still most common, though this may not be true in the big cities Usually, the girls do not see their husband prior to getting married Joint family structure means that the married girls are forced to leave their parents at an early age

15 Why Do People Marry Their Daughters Early? Child marriage is often used to cope with social conditions (most Indian men and women don’t agree with the practice, but do it out of necessity) Financial pressures of the dowry Value of virginity Traditional gender norms Poverty

16 Value of Virginity It is believed that husbands only want to marry virgins Parents fear that their daughters will engage in premarital sex, and this would bring dishonor to the family The earlier parents marry their daughter, the more they feel they ensure her virginity

17 Traditional Gender Norms Males are valued more in Indian families than females Girls are “reared to be obedient, self-sacrificing, modest, nurturant, hardworking and homeloving” “American girls are given too much independence. A girl should marry young, before she has the chance to develop independent ideals” Marriage helps preserve the hierarchy, especially if the husband is much older

18 Traditional Gender Norms Woman’s primary role is to produce sons (need an heir) A woman establishes her place in her husband’s family through reproduction

19 Traditional Gender Norms Sex-selective abortion is extremely common –750 to 850 girls are born per 1000 boys Girls receive less health care –For girls who are born, “birth is the only equal opportunity they will ever get” –Girls are 43% more likely than boys to die before their 5th birthday

20 The Dowry The daughter’s family gives money or a large gift to the husband’s family Certain events mean that you are not required to pay a dowry, which encourages the parents to marry their daughters (despite a young age) when these events occur If the daughter is younger, the husband’s family may request a smaller dowry because they know that she is “pure”

21 Poverty With less money, one wants to give the daughter away early, because it is one less mouth to feed Families do not want to invest in the education or health of girls, because it is a lost investment Instead, girls are trained to be good wives until going to their husbands

22 What are the consequences of early marriage? High rates of HIV/AIDS High rates of early childbearing –Maternal and infant mortality are high Lack of health care Lack of education Girls are deprived of a voice in their marriage and their community Vicious cycle of poverty, low educational attainment, high rates of disease, the subordination of women, etc.

23 Health Consequences Women age fifteen to nineteen are twice as likely to die in childbirth, compared to women in their twenties Girls who marry by age 15 often have four children by the time they reach their early 20s Infant mortality for children born to mothers under 20, versus those born to mothers 20-29, is significant Often, the husband’s family does not attend to the wife’s medical needs

24 HIV/AIDS in India Relatively new Increasingly spreading from urban to rural areas and from “high-risk” to “general” populations million people in India have HIV Some argue that it is has the highest number of HIV cases in the world Roughly 5% of people in Rajasthan are believed to be HIV positive

25 HIV/AIDS in India Knowledge of HIV is extremely low, especially among women –Less than 20% of married women in Rajasthan had ever heard of AIDS, compared to 65% for men Condom use is extremely low –Partially because there is so much pressure to bear children Difficult to get tested or treated in rural areas –The time it takes to travel to the city and get tested means a day off from work and less money Stigma

26 HIV/AIDS In many countries, married adolescents are at a greater risk of contracting HIV than their unmarried peers Why? –Education programs are often irrelevant to married women Condom use and abstinence programs don’t address married women’s needs –Husbands in migrant communities must go away for long periods of time Droughts exacerbate this –Husband may be much older and have many partners –Girl’s body may be too immature for sex

27 My Internship at Veerni Project Veerni means “heroine” or “woman of strength” in Hindi Goal: To empower rural Rajasthani women to lead healthy and productive lives Veerni has three main focuses: –Education –Health care and malnutrition –Social awareness

28 My Internship at Veerni Project Veerni focuses on giving girls a better chance in their communities Veerni’s programs include: –A girls’ hostel that provides ninety village girls with an uninterrupted secondary education in a nurturing environment –Literacy programs in six rural villages –Sewing programs, to help women gain economic independence –Primary and reproductive health education programs and clinics –A malnutrition program –Community meetings to discuss gender disparities and the problems of child marriage

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33 My Internship at Veerni Project What I did –Research –Wrote reports –Went daily to provide reproductive healthcare to rural women –Developed health workshops for these communities –Taught at the Veerni hostel

34 What You Can Do Write letters to the Veerni girls Spread awareness about the issues Support government bills that focus on ending child marriage Donate books and school supplies to girls in India Be socially aware Volunteer or intern at an organization


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