Remember your elementary school crush? You know, the one you ‘dated’ for three days before deciding you just weren’t ready for that level of commitment? Those breakups, if that’s what you want to call them, were pretty easy and make for good laughs later in life.
Now imagine that instead of dating your elementary school crush (aka drawing pictures and pushing each other), you two actually got married. And the person wasn't your crush. And the whole thing was part of a disgusting, awful practice that needs to stop.
As ill-fated as this all sounds, it didn’t seem so bad to Indian father Anil Mangre a few years ago.
In 2009, Mangre arranged for his four (yes, four) year old daughter Fatima to be married. Her husband was 10 years old at the time. Marriages are not legally recognized by the state in India unless both spouses are 18 years old, but families often informally arrange and recognize marriages amongst themselves when their children are considerably younger.
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At some point in the last several years, Mangre came to his senses and decided that maybe four years old was just a little bit young to be married. When Fatima’s husband, now 14 himself, arrived to claim his bride recently, Mangre refused to hand his daughter over. An argument broke out between the two families in which the husband’s family insisted that Mangre uphold the marital agreement. Mangre refused and declared the agreement null and void immediately after.
“I finally realized that this practice of marrying off daughters so young was wrong and that she should have a childhood, and that it was my duty to provide that,” he said.
The National Commission for Women (NCW), based in New Delhi, has sent a letter to both families demanding an explanation for both why the daughter was married off so young and why the husband’s family insisted on the premature commitment being honored.
“This is a scandal, we need more details before taking action,” NCW member Nirmala Samant writes. “The girl's father must answer why he married her off at four years old and the boy's father must answer why he agreed to such a marriage and then went to demand the girl when she is barely eight years old. This is insensitive, controversial and objectionable.”
Mangre, meanwhile, wrote a handwritten letter in which he expressed regret for marrying off his daughter and says he will fight to give his daughter the childhood she deserves.
“I have already admitted my mistake. Social pressures are high in our village. But the marriage has been annulled. I have admitted it was wrong to marry her off so early,” his letter says. “I now want to make things right. I want to give my daughter a good childhood. I will do everything to protect her.”