Every three seconds, intoned Nel Hedayat, a girl younger than 18 gets married. In the rural patch of India where The Truth about Child Brides commenced, they tend to be much younger. It was Akshaya, a lucky day for marriages in the Hindu calendar, and one happy couple were both nine. By the time the wedding ceremony reached its apex around midnight, both bride and groom were practically falling asleep. Neither seemed to have the faintest idea what was going on. It was heartbreaking, and all the more shocking given the circumstances.
After all, child marriages are illegal in India, carrying with them a fine of £1,300 and the threat of two years in prison. Yet the tradition persists. The nine-year-old bride's family were furious in their defence of the practice – it is, they said, the way they've always done things. There's some mitigation to be found in the fact that, at nine, the couple don't go off and commence their new lives together; instead, the bride returns to her parents' house to wait until she's older. But it remains a recipe for disaster. Across town, we met Muntha, who, after moving in with her husband at 16, found herself on the receiving end of frequent violent beatings.
Hedayat is a good anchor for these stories. With her pearls and pink eye shadow, there's something of the head girl in her demeanour. But she's persistent in her pursuit of the story. Child marriages are something she's familiar with: both her grandmother and aunt – in their native Afghanistan – were child brides.
In the nearby city of Jaipur, things couldn't have been more different from the village scene. Hedayat met a collection of students for coffee. They know about the marriages, they say, because of a popular local soap, Balika Vadhu. TV fantasy aside, the reality of girls in the villages bears little resemblance to their own lives: educated, middle class, they intend to have careers before they settle down.
India comes 13th in the international child- marriage tally. The situation in Bangladesh is even worse. Instead of marrying other nine-year-olds, brides are twinned with adult men. The result is a crisis in maternal health, with 70,000 women left incontinent with obstetric fistula. In a local hospital, one girl explained that, after marrying at 13, she fell pregnant and was in labour for two days. Her baby died, and she was left unable to sit down without leaving urine on the floor. Her husband began to beat her, his whole family ostracised her, and eventually she was abandoned. Thanks to surgery, her condition will be cured – then, she says, she will never marry again.
To talk to the men involved in these arrangements is to encounter a kind of benevolent chauvinism. A woman not married by 24 is "past it". Rarely, though, do their wives agree. It's this mismatch that proved the most revelatory aspect. One man's wife – while not, overtly, miserable in her marriage – was adamant that she would never have chosen it. "We 14-year-olds make the mistake of getting married and ruin our lives," she observed. "And now I'm pregnant." It was a statement delivered in a jovial, almost (but not quite) humorous manner. It's her lot, but she's not happy with it.
It was this time last year that Lorraine Pascale emerged on-screen, a kind of younger, fresher Nigella. A model-turned-chef? It sounded awful. After all, we've all seen Sophie Dahl. But it wasn't. Pascale had one recipe – the "I can't believe you made that" cake – that stood out in particular. A regular sponge cake, lined with shop-bought chocolate cigarellos, it looked like the sort of gateau displayed in the windows of upmarket tea restaurants. Anyway, I fell in love, and baked it for a friend's birthday. And guess what happened? No one could believe I made it. They actually said: "I can't believe you made that." It's the best response I've ever had.
And now Pascale's back, not baking, but cooking, in Home Cooking Made Easy. Very easy. Last night's menu consisted of a cheese and ham toastie, followed by a no-bake chocolate cheesecake. OK, there was a roast in there somewhere, too, and some chutney making. But it's less home cooking and more home arranging ingredients in the prettiest way possible. Remember when Delia went all shortcuts on us and everyone fell out of love with her for five minutes? It's a bit like that. Only, unlike Delia's attempt at Amazing Moussaka, using tinned mince for the filling, Pascale's food looks seriously delicious. Especially the toastie.Reuse content