Once touted as the district with the highest female literacy, Malappuram in Kerala has gone the other way with increasing instances of child marriage and girls leaving school

K A Shaji/ Malappuram

Malappuram district scaled a high about 15 years ago when Chelakodan Ayesha, then a 68-year-old grandmother of 18 from a remote village in the district, announced Kerala’s total literacy status by reading a verse from the Quran before a thundering crowd.That event heralded a new era in the history of this Muslim-dominated district by opening the possibilities of education and empowerment to its unprivileged women.
Though the then government crippled the continuing education programme attached to the literacy mission for political reasons, the mass initiative succeeded in ensuring over 80 percent female literacy in Malappuram.Now it’s downhill for the district. According to data available with the state education department, an alarming number of Muslim girls are dropping out of school. As many as 2,152 girls, who were promoted to Class x from Class ix this year, had decided to discontinue their studies.
The data also shows that over 1,500 girls stopped coming to school in Class viii this year and 1,834 at Class vii. The number of enrolments in Class i is another reason for worry. While girls dropped out right from Class ii to Class v, there is no dropout in the case of Muslim boys.
While officials cite poor finances as the reason for mid-school dropouts, the growing preference among parents to marry off their daughters by the time they are 14 is being identified as the major reason for the dropouts in Classes viii and ix. Though the unaffordability of higher education can also be blamed for the situation, growing priority for early marriages stands out as the main villain, say teachers. Now, this district with over 80 percent female literacy is also known for a large number of early marriages, high rate of infant and maternal mortality and poverty.The decrease in admission of girls to primary classes can be viewed in the background of the skewed sex ratio.
Though the district had a healthy sex ratio in the 2001 Census, a recent study of the district panchayat found that the ratio among the 0-6 age group in Tirur taluk fell to 925 females per 1,000 males.The education department data can be viewed with a rapid household survey conducted by the Union health ministry in 1999 in Kerala. As per the study, only 9.1 percent of girls in Kerala get married before they are 18. However, in Malappuram district, 36 percent of girls are married before they reach 18.“Normally, parents do not mind sending daughters to school as long as they do not go to Class x. That was my experience during the last few decades. However, mid-school dropouts are also increasing alarmingly now,” said a senior high school headmaster, who preferred anonymity. “Last year, a parent asked me to fail his daughter, a good student, in Class ix. He feared she would not get a husband if it were known that she had turned 15 (average age of a Class x student). When I refused, the man withdrew his daughter from the school,” he added.Most women in Malappuram are grandmothers by the time they reach their early 30s. “The age of the groom is never taken into consideration, though a 15-year-old girl is considered unmarriageable,” laments Ayisha bi, who had two of her daughters married at 13 and 14. Her younger daughter died during childbirth. Her elder son-in-law, in his 40s, died soon after the fourth child was born. “My elder son-in-law and I were of the same age, but we can’t be choosy,” she says. The steady rise in marriage of minor girls is linked to the large inflow of Gulf money into the Malabar belt in recent years. Once the men start earning petro-dollars, they prefer to marry off their daughters as soon as possible.In some marriages, the grooms also go to work in the Gulf after marriage. They often return only when their minor bride is already a mother. Psychiatrists say the long years of separation have also led to a rise in cases of depression among young girls.Many young girls also suffer from the “Friday Syndrome” — complaining of extra anxiety and stress on Fridays when their husbands usually call from the Gulf.Since the Muslim Personal Law does not specify the marriageable age for women, the community’s religious heads have encouraged the practice and sanctioned the onset of puberty as the ideal age for marriage.A recent Kerala High Court judgement - that a Muslim girl, even if she is a minor, can enter into a valid marriage agreement if she has attained puberty — will only foster such unfair marriages.The court also upheld that the married minor’s husband is legally bound to provide maintenance. A case was filed by Raihanth, a Malappuram girl, when she was 17 and was refused maintenance after a quick divorce.With the rise in minor marriages, the district is fast becoming a doctor’s nightmare. “Deliveries are complicated. The district has one of the highest maternal death rates,” admits a senior medical officer in the district hospital.“Only a concerted effort by clergy, ngos, citizens and government can resolve the issue. Awareness drives must be intensified,” said VP Suhara, president of nisa, a progressive Muslim women’s outfit based at Kozhikode.

1 comment:

naswa said...

hai,iam naswa now i am studying in thrissur doing my pg in social work, my native place is at mankada in mpm dt.i decided to do my reseach in
"a study on increasing muslim girls dropouts in malappuram dt. i want 2 study the aspects like
(1) the influence of marriage system
(2)is poverty is a factor........
i think u can help me 4 my research purpose, i need u'r help.plz contact me through this id.