NEW DELHI — The family of a 19-year-old Indian girl has been ostracized and fined 1.6 million rupees ($25,000) by a village council after she rejected a marriage arranged when she was a baby, the girl and her parents said on Wednesday.
Santadevi Meghwal, from the western desert state of Rajasthan, said she was married off at 11 months old to a nine-year-old boy in her village, 60 km (37 miles) south of Jodhpur.
Meghwal became aware of her marriage at the age 16 and, with the support of her parents, refused to go and live with her husband and in-laws as they demanded.
“I was 11 months old when I was married off. It was only when I grew up that I realized what had happened,” Meghwal told the CNN-IBN television station on Wednesday. “I want to study and become a teacher. I don’t want to go there,” she added.
Meghwal’s family said her husband’s family refused to annul the marriage and took the matter to the council in Rohichan Khurd village, which imposed the fine and banished the family from the community.
“The community is forcing us to send our daughter to the groom’s and if we don’t, they are demanding 16 lakh (1.6 million) rupees from us,” Padmaram, Meghwal’s father, told the NDTV news channel.
Members of the village council and Meghwal’s husband and in-laws were not immediately available for comment.
A local charity, the Sarathi Trust, said it was helping the family, was planning legal action against the members of the village council, and had advised Meghwal’s in-laws to agree to an annulment of the marriage.
Child marriage is illegal in India, but it is deeply rooted in Indian society and remains widespread in parts of the country. About 47 percent of women aged between 20 and 24 were married before the age of 18, according to government figures.
In Rajasthan – one of India’s premier tourist destinations where millions visit its ancient fortresses and join camel-back desert safaris – some 65 percent of women were child brides, above the national average.
Gender experts say the practice hampers efforts to improve the status of women, as it cuts across every part of a girl’s development and creates a vicious cycle of malnutrition, poor health and ignorance.
A child bride is more likely to drop out of school and have serious complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Her children are more likely to be underweight and will be lucky to survive beyond the age of five.