Monday, September 16, 2013

When the law becomes religion

Police in India stopped a child marriage just in time - news link. Sounds very noble, but the bride was just 2 weeks short of turning 18 years old! The poor and powerless construction worker parents are probably wondering why the erudite law offices think in 2 weeks their daughter is going to be able to decide for herself. This is how mindlessly enforcing rules transition from science or logic to religion or dead habit. I can see a few arguments like the ones below, and my rebuttals are included:

A rule is meant to be followed or changed - violating the rule is not an option... Fine, but then why is the supreme court agreeing to decide a plea to treat someone 6 months short of 18 years as an adult (Delhi rape). You can't have it both ways or as a matter of your convenience.

In most western or developed countries, the minimum age for marriage is 18 years... Not quite - for example in the United States, the law in some states is "minimum 18 years of age without parental consent". Notice how the language makes a difference. In some states a boy or girl of 16 years can marry with parents consent (colorado law).

India needs to end child marriage practice, so this kind of enforcement helps... They are barely scratching the surface, not making any difference and just being a pain to these laborers who are trying to find a safe home for the girls. The statistic is at least 47% girls are married before 18 years of age (UNICEF) and it drops to 18% at 15 years of age. So, really they need  to focus only on stopping the smaller percentage of below 16 years of age marriages or the unconsented 16 and 17 year old marriages (e.g., a 16 year old marrying a 40 year old, or the parents are marrying the girl off to repay a loan). Further India was probably at 100% child marriages (life expectancy was 35 years in 1947) and the 53% girls married at a later age now is not one bit due to police enforcement but through education, realization and social changes among many communities, middle and upper classes.

Many of these child marriage NGO organizations have acknowledged they get the tip offs only from unhappy parties who couldn't marry the bride (or the groom) and want to seek revenge or there is another love affair going on!

Child marriage could end  up in child pregnancy or child sex: Even in the less than 15 year old cases, the culture is that many of them stay with the parents until they are old enough to join the in-laws, so there isn't a child sex issue just because there was a child marriage. Granted there will be exceptions and victims, but there are so many parallels where we don't ban practices just because there are exceptions - we only make laws to deal with the exceptions. 

If the police, NGOs and other powerful organizations adopt a more comprehensive approach, like ensuring education, ensuring pay to the families, help with debt-trap, improve living conditions, influence the laws to be written precisely to address the right problems, then the problem will go away over time on its own. It happened that way with many communities, who also used to practice child marriage in the prior generations.

Lastly, there are many beyond 18 years of age, in their 20s or even 30s that aren't quite mature adults nor ready for marriage! So the legal age for marriage doesn't quite make sense, without a clause on the mental capacity of the individuals. Guy Kawasaki said something along these lines on the right age to marry - at any age, you are never too old to marry, but you could be too young to marry!

Hopefully we'll evolve right.

No comments: