India’s Wedding Industry Unites to Fight Child Marriage

A group of tent distributors is doing its part to end the harmful practice in the northwestern state of Rajasthan.
A 16-year-old boy sits with his 13-year-old newlywed wife in a mass marriage outside his village near Kota in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, India. (Photo: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)
May 8, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Brightly colored tents decorated with twinkling lights, floral arrangements, and draped curtains are a popular setup for wedding celebrations in Rajasthan, India. But parents looking to marry off their daughters before they turn 18 may have to skip another traditional custom.

Some 47,000 wedding-tent dealers across Rajasthan are demanding that parents present birth certificates to prove betrothed couples are not minors—no birth certificate, no tents or decorations, The Times of India reports.

“In the age certificate, if we find that either bride or groom or both are minors, we will not only say no to the booking, we will also inform the police and other officers concerned,” Ravi Jindal, president of the Rajasthan Tent Dealers Association, told the newspaper.

In Rajasthan, May is considered an opportune time for marriage because of the Hindu holiday Akshaya Tritiya. This year’s holy day falls on May 9, prompting vendors to convene in late April to come up with a game plan to ramp up efforts to combat underage ceremonies.

Although the legal age for marriage in India is 18 for women and 21 for men, child marriage remains prevalent there, particularly in rural areas of Rajasthan. About 47 percent of all girls in India (and 16 percent of boys) are married as children, and 65 percent of girls living in Rajasthan are married before turning 18, according to global organization Girls Not Brides.

The consequences of child marriage are significant. Girls who marry before turning 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence or sexual abuse and contract sexually transmitted diseases than those who marry as adults, according to UNICEF. Early marriage often curtails education, leaving girls destined to be financially dependent on their husbands or work low-paying jobs.

The Rajasthan Tent Dealers Association has been working for years to end the tradition of child marriage in the state. Jindal told Reuters his group of vendors has helped prevent 80 child marriages in the past two years. The group hopes demanding legal documents will help stop more illicit ceremonies.

Families could attempt to present altered documents to tent dealers, but Jindal told The Times of India that they will be on the lookout for fake papers.

“In case a person or group of persons gives us wrong information, we will immediately inform the nearby police and other government officials for the required intervention,” he said.