What does love have to do with kidnapping cases?

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The Netflix show Indian Matchmaking shows how deeply rooted arranged marriages are in India. Ideas about the practice told in the show have often sparked memes and trends on social media. But far from the privileged worlds of 30-year-old Indian Americans, it’s no laughing matter. For many in the hinterland, defying tradition can have serious consequences.

Forbidden relationships, especially in adolescence, can throw you into long battles against your family, data recently released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) suggests. Of the 98,860 alleged kidnapping victims rescued last year, 13.7% had actually run away or were in romantic relationships. “Elopement/love affair” was one of the few types of “kidnapping” that had a hint of agency on the part of the alleged victim. In most cases, these were underage girls, far away from the big cities. Another 24% of kidnapping cases involved marriages, which may include elopement and forced marriages.

Young couples fleeing the family and community are charged under the provision when angry parents – usually the girls – learn of the violation. A 2019 Partners for Law in Development (PLD) study found that adolescents do this to avoid the crisis that unfolds — disapproval, abuse, threats and incarceration — when parents discover their relationship or premarital pregnancy. Some flee to avoid forced marriage.

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Madhu Mehra, one of the study’s authors, said taboos force interactions with the opposite sex into secrecy, and when such romances are discovered, “elopement becomes the only escape.” parents to file criminal charges to protect the girl’s alleged “honour,” retaliate against the male partner and regain her custody, she added.

Young lovers

In 2014 and 2015, journalist Rukmini S. analyzed sexual assault trials in the local courts of Delhi and Mumbai for The Bharat Express News. She found that between a quarter and a third of cases that closed their lawsuits involved “hunting parents,” against the young men their consenting daughters had run away with, usually ending in acquittal. The median age of the complainants was 16 years; girls often became hostile in courts or said they had run away because they loved the alleged kidnapper. Many were cases of inter-caste or interfaith couples whose parents were against their relationship.

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Also, the NCRB data showed that 80-90% of elopement cases considered kidnapping were filed on behalf of female “victims.” More than half were on behalf of girls under 18, while the total share of girls aged 16-18 in kidnapping victims was a third.

child marriage

The NCRB classifies a case based only on the highest crime alleged in the FIR. Young runaway men are also often charged with more serious rape charges, while the Anti-Child Marriage Act, which has no minimum penalty, is relatively rarely invoked as the highest offence, although 23% of women ages 20-24 are, according to the National Family Health Survey. 24 was underage married. In 2021, only 1,050 cases were filed where child marriage was the highest offence, compared to 7,907 children abducted for elopement or “love affair”.

Even when the Child Marriage Act is invoked, more than 65% oppose runaway couples rather than forced or arranged child marriages, another PLD study in 2021 found. The investigation also found that two-thirds of cases were initiated by girl families. The good news is that the court outcome was favorable for girls or couples in 49 of the 57 elopements.

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Runaway girls

Meanwhile, there is another type of ‘kidnapping’ that may have involved the victim’s aid worker: 6,971 minors – nearly 70% of them girls – were ‘victims’ of ‘kidnapping’ who were found to have left their homes on their own. or after being “bullied” by parents, the NCRB data showed.

The higher proportion of girls may be the result of a greater tendency for girls’ parents to file complaints. It also emphasizes the same social attitudes that translate into elopements as well. The expectation of domestic work by girls is just one of many reasons that also lead to school dropout and poorer social contacts.

“Welfare interventions — such as residential schools, safe transportation, cash and food — are needed to give girls from disadvantaged backgrounds access to secondary education,” Mehra said. “Taboos against female sexuality should also be addressed, and the legal age of sexual consent should be reduced to 16 to decriminalize consent between young people of about the same age.”

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