Officials in the the Indian state of Maharashtra are warning that child brides are being trafficked for sexual exploitation and domestic slavery.
New research is being conducted for the first time in the state, focusing on the link between child marriage and modern slavery. Until now there has been a “complete vacuum in the research space on trafficking and child marriage,” according to Adrian Phillips of the anti-trafficking group Justice and Care.
While the legal age for marriage in India is 18 for women and 21 for men, girls below this age are sometimes married off in rural and poor communities where their parents see them as financial burdens. Under the law, these child marriages are illegal and parents could face a fine of 100,000 rupees ($1,535) and two years in prison.
Thomson Reuters Foundation reports:
“Many of these marriages do not last, and we have now seen cases where there are direct and indirect linkages to trafficking,” said Vijaya Rahatkar, chairperson of Maharashtra’s women’s commission.
Rahatkar said her commission decided to carry out the survey after receiving reports of child brides enslaved in households and sold into brothels.
After one such report, authorities rescued a girl who had been married off and then forced to work without wages on a farm, where she was abused and tied up so she did not run away.
The findings of the survey, currently underway in districts that report high rates of child marriage, will be shared with various state governments, said Rahatkar.
UNICEF says that the number of child marriages has fallen by half in the last ten years, but 27% of all brides in the country are still below 18-years-old.
Nirmal Gorana, convener of the National Campaign Committee for Eradication of Bonded Labour, says the main challenge is changing parents’ mindsets.
“They believe there is no ill in the practice, as it has been going on for years. When parents marry their girls young, it is also to ensure they do not stake any claim on the parent’s property,” he said.