Patna: A teenaged girl from Bihar who spoke out against child marriages prevalent in the Indian state’s countryside at the UN forum has herself become a child bride, raising questions over the state government’s much-flaunted campaign against the social evil.
Fifteen-year-old Poonam Kumari, who hails from Khorhar village under the Bihta block in Patna district, tied the knot last month, much to the shock of social activists who had been impressed by her campaign against the social evil. Poonam was enrolled in Grade 10 when she was sent to her in-laws’ home in bridal attire.
Poonam hails from the Dalit class and at the age of 11 had earned laurels from organisations, as well as the state government, when she had run away from her home after learning that her parents were planning to get her married.
“I ran away from home because my parents were planning to get me married. If I hadn’t run away I would be living a miserable life just like my two sisters,” local media had quoted her as saying then.
This made her a star overnight and she was invited by the UN in 2013 to raise her voice against child marriages based on her own struggles and experience.
“The news is indeed very shocking. The girl who launched a campaign against child marriage has herself become its victim,” said prominent social activist Sudha Vergese.
“She was married and sent to her in-laws’ home when she went to her home during the festival vacation last month. I got the news late,” she revealed. The girl was staying at a hostel in Patna.
The development comes amid the state government launching a vigorous campaign against dowry and child marriages last month, on October 2, to mark the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The government had also announced that a human chain would be formed against the twin social evils in January next year.
Child marriages remain a matter of serious concern in Bihar despite the laws against it, with the percentage of under-age marriages touching as high as 50 per cent in 340 blocks, says a new study conducted by an NGO Gender Alliance.
“While the average for Bihar [of child marriages] is 39.1 per cent, our study found that there are 340 blocks where this percentage is above the state’s average. The highest probability of child marriage is in Ghoswari block under Patna district with 66.81 per cent, while the lowest probability is 11.81 per cent for Lahladpur block under Saran district,” said the report released in September this year.