Is it just me or is everyone around me going a bit cuckoo?! And I'm not talking about the lawmaker who thought it was grand to walk over a human bridge made of school students whose headmaster thought this would be a brilliant way to please the narcissistic politician. Nor am I talking about a former Union Parishad member who kept four schools shut for three days so he could keep his promise of feeding 30,000 of his voters. Both these individuals could be recommended for psychological assessment and considered unfit to be representatives of the public or of civilised society for that matter. But there is more craziness in the air, so much that it could make one think that we have dropped into a time warp that has taken us into the dark ages.
I'm talking about this 'special provision' that the lawmakers are trying to incorporate into the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2016, one that is being vehemently protested by human rights activists, lawyers and anyone who believes that girls should be given a chance to be educated and pursue their dreams rather than be forced to marry.
To add to the madness, I just read a news report that says that the government is also considering adding a clause that says that boys under 21 (the minimum age for them to marry under the existing law) can tie the knot under the special provision. In other words we will be one of those few countries that can boast of creating a legal framework so that kids can get married and skip their childhood. Just like the good old days when kings and queens got their infant princes and princesses betrothed so they would be tied together forever without even knowing it so that kingdoms remained intact and did not end up annihilating each other.
I guess people wanted to give a 'gender equality' dimension to a provision that will affect an under-aged girl for life: if a girl child can get married why not a boy child? He should be granted the same 'privilege' and meted out the same treatment.
Hold on, what? Have we lost our marbles? Instead of scrapping this controversial provision that will undoubtedly give excuses to parents and guardians to marry off their minor daughters to face the consequences of early marriage, we are now going to let young boys to be coerced into marriage.
So what 'special circumstances' are we really talking about that should warrant this special provision? Teenaged delinquents who stalk girls on their way to school, rape them, leading to the victim getting pregnant? When a boy and girl get caught together by the villagers and so the only way to save the girl's honour is to get them married off so that the parents and the community can live happily ever after?
Obviously we are missing the 'slight' problems that would ensue if marriage is made to be the pill to cure all ailments. Let's refresh our memories on what these problems could be. Child marriage, under any circumstances will mean the girl dropping out of school (there goes SDG 5 out the window– to empower all women and girls, not to mention our government's commendable progress in girls' education). It will mean she will get pregnant at an age when her body is not mature and hence may lead to complications during pregnancy, underweight babies, even her death while giving birth. A girl child who is compelled to marry for whatever reason, is more vulnerable to violence from her husband and in-laws as it is always easier to dominate and torture a child. If it is with her rapist we can only imagine the psychological trauma she will go through being legally his hostage to do as he pleases. This is the pretty picture this special provision conjures. Now that boys may be included, we can also count them in the dropout rates in secondary school. After all, a married man child will be expected to earn a living, not go to school.
In this wave of madness there are, thankfully, voices of sanity. Social Action Committee, a platform of 69 human rights and development organisations in the country have joined hands to protest the special provision, reiterating that this will only encourage child marriage and jeopardise the rights of children and women. These include people who have done research on the effects of child marriage, who have worked with adolescent girls and mothers, who have legally represented battered women, many of them married when they were children and those who, on a daily basis, work, think and believe in empowering women and girls. Apparently the government and these people are on the same page as far as wanting girls to grow up as strong, self sufficient, productive citizens. If that is so why will there be a regressive provision in such a progressive law? Sounds pretty insane to me.
The Writer is Deputy Editor, Editorial & Op-ed, The Daily Star.