Distressing footage shows a five-year-old girl crying uncontrollably as she is dragged through a wedding ceremony in a forced marriage in India.

The child, struggling to walk in her miniature sari, is seen holding her 11-year-old husband’s hand as a priest scolds her and leads them around a ceremonial fire.

The child was one of many boys and girls being wed at a mass ceremony in Rajasthan, which has some of the highest rates of underage marriage in India.

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A girl believed to be five years old during a child marriage in Rajasthan, India, in April 2016

Footage showed another girl breaking down as male relatives physically forced her through the necessary rites, while many of those being married or betrothed appeared to be under 10 years old.

The Saarthi Trust, a local charity that campaigns against child marriage, said the video showed a ceremony in the city of Chittorgarh.

Kriti Bharti, the group’s founder, said it was one of countless such events in the region around the Hindu festival of Akshaya Tritiya.

She said village communities in the local area “obey traditional views at any cost”, driving illiteracy, discrimination and sexual abuse.

“Unawareness of consequences of child marriage, traditional customs, loopeholes in the current legislation and the poor implementation of law are the biggest reasons behind child marriages,” Ms Bharti added.

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A girl weeping as she was married at a mass child wedding in Rajasthan, India, in April 2016

At least three people involved in the mass ceremony have been arrested, while several others remain on the run.

Police have detained the five-year-old girl’s father and brother-in-law, as well as the priest officiating over the ceremony, India Today reported.

The men are among the suspects identified in the footage, which has been broadcast across India by news networks and websites.

India’s Prohibition of Child Marriage Act has made it illegal for girls under 18 and for boys under 21 to marry since 2006 but the practice is still widespread.

The country is home to a third of the world’s child brides, according to Unicef figures, and half of Indian women are married before they turned 18.

The figure is far above that in Rajasthan and other regions where the problem is prevalent for both girls and boys, particularly in rural and impoverished areas.

Ms Bharti said the Indian government has been attempting to focus on prevention but police are not properly enforcing the law or using powers to annul child marriages, leaving victims trapped.

Unicef warns that child marriage damages mental and emotional development, health and educational opportunities, as well as putting girls at risk of domestic violence and dramatically increasing teen pregnancies.

One in six girls begins childbearing between the ages of 15 and 19, risking delivery complications and an increased infant mortality rate.

“The world has awakened to the damage child marriage causes to individual girls, to their future children, and to their societies,” said Unicef Executive Director Anthony Lake.  “This is critical now because if current trends continue, the number of girls and women married as children will reach nearly 1 billion by 2030 – 1 billion childhoods lost, 1 billion futures blighted.”

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