Washington: Praising a village in Bihar for its track record on female feticide and dowry deaths, a top US official has said that countries should implement and enforce laws establishing a minimum age for marriage.
"The residents of one village, Dharhara in the Bihar state of India, plant mango trees when a girl is born dedicated to paying for the expenses associated her marriage," Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women`s Issues told US lawmakers in a discussion with the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission at a hearing on child marriage last week.
"This simple practice takes away the financial burden associated with a daughter and has produced outstanding results," she said.
"In a state that has some of the highest rates of dowry death, there has not been a single incident of female feticide or dowry death in the village," Verveer said.
Noting that countries should implement and enforce laws establishing a minimum age for marriage, requiring the registration of marriages and prosecute the violators, she
said the development community must also address the conditions in which child marriage flourishes.
"Beyond working on the development agenda already in place, there must be an effort to increase the value of the girl-child in the eyes of her community," she argued.
The US official said one study in India found that girls who married before 18 were twice as likely to experience physical violence and three times as likely to experience sexual violence.
"Armed conflict can also exacerbate the practice of child marriage by increasing child slavery and trafficking, forced prostitution and sexual exploitation, and child homelessness - all of which conspire toward early marriage or a similarly
doomed fate," she said.
"The lack of value associated with the girl-child is not only at the root of child marriage-it also underlies comparable abuses.
For example, the issue of gendercide and female feticide that is prevalent in China, India and other places contribute to millions of missing girls around the world and is driven by
many of the same social, financial and cultural factors that animate the practice of child marriage," the official said.
"Moral, social justice, and human rights grounds compel the eradication of child marriage. Ending child marriage is also an important component of sustainable development.
Child marriage undermines nearly every Millennium Development Goal.
It is an obstacle to eradicating poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, and improving child and maternal health," she said.
Verveer said in India, the Garima, or "dignity" project is a USAID co-funded project working with local health organisations in Rajasthan and New Delhi to strengthen civil
society and community groups to advocate for improved implementation of the Prevention of Child Marriage Act and other legislation to improve legal protections for women and girls and enhance the capacity of key justice and health service institutions.
"Last year, I travelled to New Delhi and participated in the opening ceremony of this project. I was impressed with how it worked. Male members of the Rajasthan community performed a powerful street play that highlighted the negative impact of
child sex selection, domestic violence and child marriage.
Other programmes provide in-school counselling that includes life skills, hygiene and instruction in the benefits of delaying marriage until the legal age," she said.