The “disease” of waiting for children to turn 18 before getting them married has led to “love jihad”, a Bharatiya Janata Party MLA in Madhya Pradesh said on Saturday. To save their daughters from getting trapped, parents should fix their marriages early, Gopal Parmar told ANI. “Love jihad” is a term frequently used by Hindutva organisations to allege a conspiracy by Muslim men to marry women from other religions solely to convert them to Islam.

Parmar said no one had heard of divorces when child marriages were in practice, The Indian Express reported. Marriages worked because parents “used to apply their mind” and find “compatible children” for matches, he said.

“Earlier, the elders of the family used to fix marriages in the childhood, and those relations used to last longer,” Parmar, the MLA from Agar Malwa, said at a function. “Since the government started this ‘18-year disease’, many girls have started eloping as the fever of love jihad has gripped them.”

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Parmar was referring to the minimum legal age for marriage, which is 18 for women and 21 for men.

“It is the duty of our mothers to make their daughters, who are closer to them, understand this,” he added, according to the Hindustan Times. “As the girls reach adolescence, their mind starts wandering.”

He told ANI: “The government’s intention behind the 18-year bar for marriage is different, but children’s marriages were fixed earlier in the villages, then they would not take the wrong decision.” Now, if somebody does not get married on time, they get “diverted” and incidents like love jihad happen.

“It has become evident that some people develop cordial relations with families, show affinity and then exploit women of that family,” Parmar claimed. “There are some goonda [hooligan] elements among Muslims who adopt Hindu names to exploit girls in the name of love jihad.”

He, however, clarified that he did not advise anyone to solemnise weddings before girls turn 18, but only that families should fix marriages before that age. He himself married as a child and fixed the marriages of his three children before they reached the legal age, he said. “They are all happy,” he added.