weddingA recent order by the Kerala government reducing the marriageable age of Muslim girl to 16 years has once again put spotlight on Islam and the Muslims. Muslim community didn’t ask the government to bring down marriageable age. They didn’t also argue that all Muslim girls to be married off at the age of 16.
The order was issued as many couples found it difficult to get legal documents like passports since their marriage was illegal as per the existing law since the girl was below 18 when the marriage was solemnized. The order was to bring them under the purview of the law to help them to get legal documents. Since it was practically impossible to dissolve these marriages just because they technically come under child marriage, the GO was a reasonable solution to a tricky issue.

But, the so called progressive leftists and ‘secular’ Muslim intellectuals came running with ropes as soon as they heard that a ‘Muslim bull’ had delivered a calf. The leftists felt vindicated since they always argue that Islam is not progressive enough, especially when it comes to women’s rights and freedom. The secular Muslim intellectuals also joined the bandwagon as they got one more stick to beat the religious leaders who promote Islam which does not compatible with ‘modern’ values.
Soon after the GO was issued, the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS)
also released a survey regarding the child marriages in Malappuram district, a Muslim majority district in Kerala. The ‘progressive elements’ and the media took the opportunity to blame Islam and the Muslim religious groups for promoting illegal marriages in the district.

According to the ICDS survey, the total number of child marriages among Muslims in 2012 was 2698 in Malappuram district.
Marriages happened up to the age of 14: 4
Marriages happened between the age group of 14-16: 338
Marriages happened between the age group of 16-18: 2356
It shows most of the child marriages happened among 16-18 age group. The number includes other communities, including SC and STs.
Most of these cases were reported from Perinthalmanna, Vandoor and Kalikavu, relatively economically backward areas in the district.
The report also says the average number of such marriages in 2001, 2002 and 2003 was 25,000. The latest figures show a downward trend.
But these facts didn’t stop the ‘progressives’ from highlighting the religious dimension of the issue as Islam and Muslims were on the wrong side.

All of them looked the issue through the prism of religion and tried to find fault with Islam claiming it is inherently anti-women in its attitude.
A sober analysis of the situation will prove that, it is not religion but the socio-economic condition of the community which prompts child marriages in the district.

Salem and Dharamapuri districts in Tamil Nadu register maximum number of child marriages in the state and majority of them are from Hindu community. Is it because of some ignorant khazis solemnizing illegal marriages? No. The situation is the same in many north Indian states where children are being married off at a very early stage. They are also not Muslims.

The issue has to be seen its social context. There is certain socio-economic condition where these marriages happen and religion is not the main catalyst, whether it’s Isalm or Hinduism.
Across the world it has been proved that when the socio-economic situation of the family improves, the marriageable age of girls has gone up without any imposition of law or coercion.

While the socio-economic condition of Muslims in Malappuram is far better compared to other parts of the country, such marriages still happen there. Why?
Even though in terms of law they are called children, most of them belong to the age group of 15-17. It is totally different from the child marriages that are happening in northern India where children are forced to marry at the age of 5+.

In the case of Malappuram, it is not at all an issue among the economically and educationally well off families, there most of them get married after completing at least Plus 2 or graduation.
But in poor families this is not the case. For example if a family has three or four girls it is a huge burden for the family to educate and marry them off under the current situation. The huge expense a marriage brings is beyond the limit of an average lower middle class family.
Then, the first concern of the parents is to marry them off early than completing their education. When the age of girl goes up, the chances of finding grooms getting more difficult as even the educated men prefer to marry girls below the age of 20. In wealthy and educated families the condition is better.

It is nearly impossible to find a groom for an educated Muslim girl from a poor family, if she had crossed the age of 23-25 years. When the age goes up the rate of dowry also goes up. There are umpteen examples for such cases. What will we say to these parents? If some parents foresee such a situation and marry their girls at an early age, how can we blame them? Should we tell those parents to gamble with the life of their daughters or should we send them to jail for committing a crime?
In the context of increasing sexual harassments and extra-marital relationships, parents of girls are scared of the security of their daughters. Islam is not as ‘progressive’ to permit extra-marital sex on the condition of mutual consent of two adults! Since Islam prohibits sex outside marriage under any circumstances, parents prefer to marry them off early than taking chances. Should we blame those parents who prefer an early marriage for their daughters?

Without addressing these concerns simply blaming religion or the lack of ‘progressive thinking’ in the community will not solve the problem. It may give self gratification or political mileage. But it will not help the victims.

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