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'Child marriages prevalent among Muslims in Kerala'

Thursday, October 21, 2010 10:43:34 PM, IANS

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Thiruvananthapuram: Child marriages are prevalent among Muslims in Kerala, and the custom can be combated only by creating awareness, the state's women's commission chairperson said Thursday.

"We are doing a lot of awareness programme to change the mindset of the people and that's all what we can do. We do get help from the NCW (National Commission for Women) to this effect and we will continue our efforts," Kerala Women's Commission chairperson D. Sreedevi said.

She said that precise figures were not available, though the state administration has identified the regions where the practice was prevalent.

"This is happening in districts of Kasargode, Malappuram and Kannur. Even though we have not done any survey to this effect and do not have the actual numbers, it is for certain that this is happening," she said.

Girija Vyas, chairperson of the National Commission for Women (NCW), said the commission has been going around the country to find out people's views on the issue, and will submit a report to the Supreme Court on the ideal age for marriage.

"We are of the view that the present age of 18 for women and 21 for men should stay, but then we will insist in our report that registration of marriages be made mandatory," said Vyas, who was attending a conference here.

"We chose Kerala to have a dialogue because in this state the rate of child marriages is the least. We will submit our report in three months," she added.

"According to Muslim law, the marriage of a minor is valid," said Vyas.

Community leaders, however, said instances of child marriages might have been common in the past, especially in north Kerala, but such marriages were merely a ritual since the bride and the groom do not live together till they attain maturity.

Saifudeen Haji, state secretary of the Muslim Jamath Coordination, explained: "Look, what happens now, is that if a minor's parents want to marry off their daughter, they conduct the 'nikaah'. This ceremony is attended by the boy's and girl's relatives, two witnesses and a person well versed in Muslim rituals."

"After this ceremony, the girl and the boy are technically husband and wife, but they don't live together. The marriage is solemnised only after the girl turns 18. Maybe this is being interpreted as a child marriage."

Muslims constitute 24 percent of Kerala's population of 3.2 crore, according to government figures.







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