Reuters NewMedia - February 9, 2012
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's development is being slowed by
discriminatory practices against women such as child marriage,
which stifle their potential to contribute to growth, South
African peace campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu said.
"India is doing fantastically. I mean they are complaining about
seven percent GDP growth. Imagine if you then enlisted the
participation of 50 percent of the population. Women. Imagine
what it would be," Tutu told Reuters late Wednesday.
"I think that India is poised to become a very significant player
but, that role would be greatly, greatly enhanced, when women are
given their proper place."
Tutu, 80, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for speaking out
against white minority rule in South Africa.
Now, as chairman of The Elders -- a group of prominent people
dedicated to addressing humanitarian issues -- he is spearheading
a global movement called "Girls Not Brides" aimed at ending child
Gender experts say a girl under the age of 18 is married every
three seconds -- that's 10 million each year -- often without
consent and sometimes to a much older man, before she is mentally
or sexually ready for such a relationship.
The practice is most prevalent in Africa, the Middle East and
South Asia, despite laws in most countries banning it.
In a rapidly modernizing country, tightly bound by traditional
patriarchal views, Indian women face a plethora of threats from
sexual violence, dowry murders, discrimination in health,
education and land rights as well as child marriage.
A staggering 47 percent of women in India between the ages of 20
and 24 married before the legal age of 18, according the
government's latest National Family Health Survey.
Tutu -- who is in India with some of the other Elders, which
includes former Irish President Mary Robinson and Gro Harlem
Brundtland, who was Norway's first prime minister -- said it was
imperative to address the issue as it was linked to development.
"It's been shown that where child marriage is in vogue, six of
the eight millennium development goals, you can forget about," he
said referring to a string of goals 192 U.N. members agreed to
implement by 2015.
The goals include reducing child and maternal mortality, ending
poverty and hunger, providing universal education, gender
equality and combating HIV/AIDS.
"You can forget obviously gender equality. You can forget about
education because a girl leaves school when she gets married and
you can forget about reducing poverty as she is hardly likely to
earn a great deal with no education."
Child marriage also threatens the health of a young mother, he
said, adding that a girl giving birth at 15 is five times more
likely to die in the process than a girl of 19 or older. While
her infant is 60 percent more likely to die.
He said girls, who were often married to older men, had little
control over their sex lives and were more likely to be infected
Tutu, who has campaigned on issues from human rights to fighting
AIDS and homophobia, said ending discriminatory practices, giving
women an equal voice and empowering them, would help countries
realize their full potential.
"As women are set free, we discover, hey, this is a resource that
we had allowed to lie fallow."
(Editing by Robert Birsel)