An Indian woman who was a baby bride has had her 17-year marriage legally annulled in a ground-breaking case challenging the culture of child weddings, Agence France Presse reported Wednesday.
Laxmi Sargara was 1 year old when she was married to a 3-year-old boy named Rakesh in the desert state of Rajasthan in northwestern India, the French news agency said. Their families decided that when they grew up they would live together and have children.
Child marriages, outlawed in India in 1929, are still common in many parts of the country, especially in rural and poorer communities, AFP said.
A Unicef report says 47 percent of married women in India wed before age 18.
"I was unhappy about the marriage,” Sargara, now 18, told AFP. “I told my parents who did not agree with me, then I sought help. Now I am mentally relaxed and my family members are also with me."
Girls married off in infancy often remain in their parents' homes until they reach puberty and then are taken amid great celebrations to their husbands’ families, AFP said.
When Sargara just days ago discovered that she was married and would be sent to her husband’s home this week, she sought advice from social worker Kriti Bharti, who runs the children’s rights group Sarathi Trust, AFP said.
Bharti negotiated with Rakesh, the groom, who only uses one name, and both families to persuade them that the marriage was unfair, AFP reported.
"It is the first example we know of a couple wed in childhood wanting the marriage to be annulled, and we hope that others take inspiration from it," Bharti told AFP.
Rakesh, an earth-mover driver, at first wanted to press ahead with the relationship but was convinced by Sargara’s fierce opposition that the marriage should be revoked, Bharti said.
The marriage was annulled through a joint legal document signed by the bride and groom and validated by a public official in Jodhpur, AFP said.
"To ensure that the girl does not face any problem in future, we decided to go for a legal agreement," said Indu Chaupra, local director of the ministry of women and child development, told AFP.
The annulment coincided with the Akshaya Tritiya festival, a traditional date for 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, AFP said.
A recent survey found that 10 percent of girls in Rajasthan are married off before the age of 18, the BBC reported. Unicef says 40 percent of the world’s child marriages take place in India, the BBC said.
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