Sargara holds up the annulment
certificate outside the Jodhpur court
Laxmi Sargara, 18, unknowingly wed her husband Rakesh, 20, in Jaipur 17 years ago. In the first procedure of its type, the pair had their union legally revoked in Jodhpur on Tuesday.
Child marriage is illegal in the country, but is still common, especially in poor, rural communities, in which it is seen as a way to improve the financial security of both families.
According to the National Family Health Survey, 47 per cent of women in India are married before the legal age of 18. “I was unhappy about the marriage,” said Sargara. “I told my parents, but they didn’t agree with me. Then I sought help.”
When she discovered that she was married, Sargara went for advice to social worker Kriti Bharti, who runs the Sarathi Trust, an organisation that lobbies for children’s rights.
Bharti negotiated with Rakesh, who only uses one name, as well as both families to convince them that the marriage was unfair. “Laxmi was married to Rakesh when she was one year old,” said Bharti. “Her parents only informed her that she needs to go away to her husband’s house, when she turned 18.”
Bharti added that Sargara was very depressed, as she didn’t like the boy and wasn’t ready for marriage. Rakesh, who drives an earth-mover for a living, initially wanted the marriage to last, but eventually gave into his Sargara’s demands.
“Now I am mentally relaxed and my family members have also taken my side,” said a relieved Sargara.“This case is the first instance of annulment of a marriage that took place in a couple’s childhood, and we hope others take inspiration from it,” Bharti added.
The annulment took place on the same day as the Akshaya Tritiya festival, a traditional date of mass child weddings.
On Sunday, villagers in Rajasthan attacked and injured at least 12 government officials who tried to stop a wedding of about 40 child couples.
Child marriage is not just a problem in India, it is also seen in many other countries. From Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East to South Asia and even in some parts of the US, underage children are forced into marriages.
Copyright 2008 Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd. . All rights reserved.