Amid the growing cases of schoolgirls being sold as brides to rich Arab men, the mosques in Hyderabad are slowly joining the campaign against the same to curb this heinous crime of child marriages.
The government of India launched an investigation into the marriage of a 16-year-old Indian girl to a 65-year-old Oman national in exchange for Rs 5 lakh after the former contacted her mother from Muscat begging for help.
After a preliminary investigation into the case by Hyderabad Police, it was found that the girl’s father had presented fake documents regarding her age as marriage below the age of 18 years is prohibited by law in India. While her father has been taken into custody, the qazi who performed the marriage at a hotel in the city is still absconding.
According to campaigners and activists, such illegal marriages of innocent girls in their early teens to wealthy Arab nationals have become a norm in the city, with innumerable girls falling prey every year only to be abused both physically and sexually. Some are even pushed into domestic servitude, which is just a fancy name for sex slavery in the Middle-east.
Imtyaz Rahim, district child protection officer in Hyderabad, said in an interview:
This is trafficking in the guise of marriage as poor people are targeted, lured and manipulated into giving their daughters away.
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In the past, we have got licenses of qazis canceled for performing such weddings. We are now asking them mandatorily check the bride’s age proof. We are also asking mosques to include messages against such marriages in their sermons.
According to Rahim, even a five to 10 minutes’ message from the mosque will spread awareness against child marriage as most of these marriages are performed secretly by seemingly poorer sections of the people and it is only possible to gain access to such people through the sermons at the mosques.
Marriages of girls with rich Arab merchants are quite common in Hyderabad along with some other cities down south. In such cases, the “marriage” is settled against hefty cash payments made by the groom to the bride’s family.
Jameela Nishat, founder of Shaheen’s Women’s Resource and Welfare Association, said though stricter laws against child marriage in India have been effective, the wrongdoers have found other ways to trap these innocent girls:
But girls are now being taken to Gulf nations on work or 40-day visit visas and trapped in marriage.
Meanwhile, Velivela Satyanarayana, a deputy commissioner of police in Hyderabad, said that numerous government agencies are working together to bring the 16-year-old girl back to India from Muscat at the earliest.