Educating Only Unmarried Girls is Not Social WelfareWhen a girl passes intermediate and is ready to take up a degree course, ideally she should be 18, which is the age at which girls can legally marry in India. This age calculation has been arrived at after taking into account the fact that a child has to be 6 years old when he or she is admitted to the 1st standard. Since intermediate is passed after 10 plus two years of study, a person will be 18 years old when he or she passes it provided they did not repeat a class.
By Sunil Garodia
India witnesses a large number of child marriages. Telengana is one state where in rural areas and among the so-called backward classes, the incidence of child marriage is very high. To discourage this practice, the state government had passed a rule last year that prevented married girls from taking admission in degree colleges run by the state social welfare department. This rule has come to light now, when the department has put out a circular (see the lead picture) calling for admissions to degree courses for academic year 2017-18 in residential colleges run by the department. The circular expressly says that only unmarried girls can apply.
This is one more instance of how the government creates several wrongs in trying to set one right. The intention behind the rule was noble. If parents wanted their girls to study further, they would have to ensure that they were not married before, or just after, attaining the age of 18. But there are several things that work against the rule. First, what happens if the girl is unmarried at the time of taking admission but gets married just after starting, or any time before completing, the course? Is her admission cancelled?
Then, this rule will put the parents of such girls in a dilemma. Social and peer pressure would want them to marry the girls, while aspirations will guide them to let them study further. In the so-called backward class society, social pressure often wins. That would mean that the girls would not be able to study further even if their husbands or in-laws agree to let them. Finally, the excuse given by the Telengana government, that married women cause distraction to other students as their husbands come to meet them regularly, is highly misogynistic. Married women can claim that they would have only their husbands visiting them while unmarried girls could have a different boyfriend visit them each week. They can then claim that unmarried girls are a bigger distraction.
Since the degree course is started after attaining marriageable age, what the government can do is to verify whether the girl was married after completing 18 years of age. If she was legally married, she should not be denied admission. Child marriage is a social evil that cannot be fought by denying the right of education to girls. In fact, it can only be discouraged and prevented by educating more and more girls and making them capable of taking informed decisions. A mother of today, educated to understand how marrying before 18 negatively impacts the physical and mental growth of a girl, will be better placed to ensure that her girl-child is not married at a tender age. Taking away this right from legally married women is not social welfare; it is a bigger social evil.