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Indian child marriage annulled in landmark case

By 문예빈

Published : April 27, 2012 - 13:15

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An Indian couple who “married” when aged just one and three have had their wedding annulled in a ground-breaking case that activists hope will challenge the culture of child marriages.

Laxmi Sargara, 18, unknowingly wed her husband Rakesh, 20, in the desert state of Rajasthan 17 years ago after their families decided that when they grew up they would live together and have children.

In the first procedure of its type, the pair had their union legally revoked in the city of Jodhpur on Tuesday as part of a campaign against enforced child marriages.

“I was unhappy about the marriage. I told my parents who did not agree with me, then I sought help,” Sargara told AFP. “Now I am mentally relaxed and my family members are also with me.”

Child marriage is illegal in India but remains common in poor, rural communities in which it is seen as improving the financial security of both families.

The girl often remains in her parents' home until she reaches puberty and is then taken amid great celebrations to her husband's family.

But when she discovered that she was married, Sargara went for advice to social worker Kriti Bharti, who runs the Sarathi Trust in Jodhpur, a welfare organisation that lobbies for children's rights.

Bharti negotiated with Rakesh, the groom, who only uses one name, and both families to persuade them that the marriage was unfair.

“Laxmi was married to Rakesh when she was as young as one year old. Now she is 18 and a few days back she was informed by her parents that she was married and she would have to go to her husband's house,” Bharti told AFP on Wednesday.

“Hearing this, she got depressed. She did not like the boy and was not ready to go ahead with her parents' decision so she decided to refuse this marriage.

“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 added.

Rakesh, who works driving an earth-mover, at first wanted to press ahead with the relationship but was convinced by his wife's fierce opposition to agree that the marriage should be revoked.

The marriage was annulled through a joint legal document signed by the two parties and validated by a public official in Jodhpur.

“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.

“The entire process was done in my supervision and my office has copies of the agreement.”

The annulment took place on the same day as 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)

<관련 한글 기사>


“1살에 결혼했어요” 강제결혼 무효소송
18세 인도소녀, 혼인 법적으로 무효화시켜

태어나자마자 결혼을 하게 된 인도소녀가 결혼 무효소송에서 승소했다.

영국 BBC 방송과 AFP통신 등 주요 외신들은 “인도의 ‘정략 조혼’ 관습에 따라 한 살 때 결혼을 하게 된 인도 라자스탄주 조드푸르에 사는 18세 소녀 락스미 사르가라가 혼인을 법적으로 무효화시켰다”고 보도했다.

사르가라는 한 살 때 남편으로 정해진 라케시(당시 3세)가 있다는 사실을 모른 채 살아오다 얼마 전 라케시 가족이 찾아오면서 본인의 결혼사실을 알게 됐다.

사르가라는 “알지도 못한 채 혼인상태가 돼 있다는 건 불행한 일이다”라며 “부모님께 내 의사를 분명히 밝히고 나를 도와줄 수 있는 곳을 찾아다녔다”고 전했다.

사르가라의 결혼 무효 소송을 도운 지역 NGO 사회운동가 크리티 바르티(Kriti Bharti)는 “인도에서 정략 조혼이 법적으로 취소된 경우는 없었다”며 “사르가라의 사례가 앞으로 좋은 본보기가 되길 바란다. 이번 소송을 통해 더 많은 사람들이 자유를 되찾길 희망한다”고 말했다.

결혼을 원했던 남편 라케시는 고민 끝에 그녀의 의견을 존중해 공증인이 보는 앞에서 선서를 하고 남남이 됐다.

한편 인도에서는 1929년부터 법적으로 미성년자 결혼을 금지시켰으나 인도의 많은 지방에서 법을 어기고 부모의 의지에 따라 자녀들을 결혼시키는 사례가 발생하고 있다.