A recent diplomatic omission that did not receive the media attention it deserved was India’s failure to co-sponsor a global resolution floated by the UN Human Rights Council against child marriages. The resolution, which sought to include child, early and forced marriages in post-2015 international development agenda, was co-sponsored by a cross-regional group of 107 nations, many of them poor and developing countries where such marriages are common.
India, which has the dubious distinction of hosting the largest number of child brides — 24 million, which is 40 per cent of the 60 million worldwide — blamed extreme poverty for the prevalence of child marriages and argued that the practice should be allowed to die a natural death by removing its root cause, that is poverty. Surprisingly, India also sought clarity on the term ‘child, early and forced marriage’ even as the resolution sought to outlaw the marriage of girls aged below 18 years, which is also the legal age for girl’s marriage in India.
The wrangle over semantics and the stand taken by India at the UN forum have touched a raw nerve in Kerala, where the issue has been raging for months. Some orthodox Muslim organisations are planning to move the Supreme Court to get exemption for Muslim girls from the purview of Child Marriage Law in order to enable them to get married before attaining 18 years.