Today – October 11 – is the first International Day of the Girl Child. The focus of the day in this inaugural year is child marriage.
According to the Department of International Development (UK), every three seconds a girl in the poorest part of the world is forced to marry against her will.
US-based humanitarian organization Care says that 60 million girls around the world are forced into marriage before the age of 18, putting them at a higher risk of being physically abused, contracting HIV and other diseases, and dying while pregnant or during child birth.
While recognizing a girl child thus is in itself celebratory, I write with much consternation, the sad situation of millions of girls in India. It is no consolation that India is not the only country where the girl child is discriminated upon. There are indeed worse crimes being committed against girls elsewhere in the name of convention, tradition, culture and religion.
But the Indian context comes into sharp focus today because less than 24 hours earlier a former Chief Minister of Haryana, a northern Indian state, went on record to say that he agreed with the Khaps (all-male community councils) that the marriageable age for girls be lowered to 15 – from the present national legal age of 18. Why? Because, like the competing-with-the-Taliban-Khap leaders, he thinks it will prevent girls from being raped. Fifteen minor girls have been raped in that state in just this month, and marrying girls off at 15, according to these men will prevent them from being raped.
One hears from time to time, bizarre ideas stemming from the fertile grounds of patriarchal societies that in concrete form curtail and discriminate against women’s freedoms, but this one takes the cake.
Uncannily, these men think that marrying off a girl at 15 will “protect” her. So how does one even begin to explain to them that at 15, even sex with a husband would amount to statutory rape because the girl would still be a minor? Also, by implication, these esteemed men seem to think that rapists target only unmarried women and by that logic, virgins.
This dangerously regressive psyche of that section of Indian men not only makes me cringe, but actually scares me.
Take the instance of Malala Yousufzai, the 14-year old Pakistani girl who is struggling for her life after being shot at by the Taliban for championing the cause of girls’ education in Pakistan. Like Frida Ghitis, a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald wrote in the context of Malala: The world’s worst cowards are the members of the Pakistani Taliban… the Pakistani Taliban are terrified of a 14-year old girl.”
I think, that is it – these men suffer from such extreme low self-esteem that the only vent for their libidinous egos is to keep finding ways to suppress women.
But I have hope for women of course. And that comes from girls like Malala. The Taliban was terrified of her. Because, as Ghitis said, she was not afraid of them. And that’s worth celebrating.