06/13/2012, 00.00
INDIA
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Rajasthan: married off at 9, a 24-yr-old woman wants her marriage annulled

by Nirmala Carvalho
State High Court orders government to protect Shobha Choudhary and her family after village authorities threaten them. The young woman is finishing a university degree, whilst her husband is semi-illiterate. "I cannot accept such a marriage," she says. Child marriage in india is illegal but widespread.

Jaipur (AsiaNews) - A 24-year-old woman from the village of Rajwa (Rajasthan) has asked the state's High Court to annul her marriage, which was celebrated when she was nine. In view of the situation, the court ordered the government to protect Shobha Choudhary and her family since her local Khap Panchayat (caste assembly) issued threats against them. Dr Pascoal Carvalho, a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, called her decision "courageous", a tool against "a blight on Indian society."

"My husband is semi-illiterate and can barely write his name," said Shobha Choudhary who graduated from school and is currently in university. "I'm working as well as completing a Bachelor of Education. It was not my decision to get married; I was only nine. I cannot accept such a marriage."

She found the strength to rebel after a court ruling made Indian legal history. Back in April, a court in Rajasthan annulled the marriage of 18-year-old Laxmi Sargara, who was married off at the age of one.

Although a 1929 Indian law bans child marriages and imposes stiff fines on those involved, such a practice has survived. In many parts of the country, like Rajasthan but also Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand, mass child marriages are performed.

"There are many ways to get around the law," Dr Carvalho said. "Once they are done, they cannot be annulled. Not only are such marriages a violation of human rights, but they are the worst kind of exploitation and abuse."

According to the US-based International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), 50 per cent of all Indian women are married before they are 18.

In addition to domestic (and often sexual) abuse and psychological problems, they are often infected with the HIV virus by their husbands. Post-partum mortality is also a major cause of death for women 15 to 18.

The High Court has set a hearing for 4 July. "I hope the court will annul the marriage to send a message to all the young men and women who want a better life for themselves and rid us of the tradition of child marriage," Dr Carvalho said. "Although this practice is waning in some parts of the country, we still have a long way to go before we eliminate it from society for good."

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