Decline in Child Marriage in India

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    • According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), India has seen a steady decline in the prevalence of child marriage from 47.4% in 2005 to 23.3% in 2021.

    Key Points

    • India: 
      • India has seen a steady decline in the prevalence of the practice from 47.4% in 2005 to 23.3% in 2021.
      • Eight States have a higher prevalence of child marriage than the national average:
      • West Bengal, Bihar and Tripura top the list with more than 40% of women aged 20-24 years married below 18
    • The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has warned that pandemic-induced economic hardship could roll back the gains made so far.
      • Financial distress triggered by the closure of businesses and loss of employment during lockdowns imposed to check the spread of COVID-19 over the past two years has resulted in child marriage rearing its ugly head in Rajasthan, where the social malaise is culturally endemic. 
    • Indian States:
      • Among the bigger States, West Bengal and Bihar have the highest prevalence of girl child marriage. 
      • States with a large population of tribal poor have a higher prevalence of child marriage. 
      • In Jharkhand, 32.2% of women in the age bracket 20-24 got married before 18, infant mortality stood at 37.9%, and 65.8% of women in the 15-19 age bracket are anaemic. 
      • Assam too has a high prevalence of child marriage (31.8% in 2019-20 from 30.8% in 2015-16). 
      • Some States have shown a reduction in child marriages, like 
        • Madhya Pradesh (23.1% in 2020-21 from 32.4% in 2015-16), 
        • Rajasthan (25.4% from 35.4%) and 
        • Haryana. 
      • States with high literacy levels and better health and social indices have fared much better on this score. 
        • In Kerala, women who got married before the age of 18 stood at 6.3% in 2019-20, from 7.6% in 2015-16. 
        • Tamil Nadu too has shown improved figures with 12.8% of women in the age group 20-24 years getting married before 18 compared to 16.3% in 2015-16.
      • Rajasthan: 
        • Rajasthan has witnessed 1,216 child marriages since 2018-19. 
        • National Commission for Women and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) launched a probe into child trafficking and prostitution in rural Rajasthan following media reports about girls being sold on stamp paper to settle debts based on the orders of a khap panchayat in Pander village in Bhilwara district.

    Primary Reasons for Child Marriage

    • Poverty: If a family is struggling financially, marrying off one of their daughters can mean one less mouth to feed and one less child to educate.
    • Safety: For families living in dangerous environments, like a refugee camp or war zone, child marriage can actually seem like a safer option.
    • Tradition: Child marriage is deeply imbedded in some cultural traditions, where it is viewed as a normal and reasonable practice.
    • Social Insecurity: Many people have this perception that a married woman is much safer from societal offences than an unmarried woman. Unmarried women are viewed with malafide intentions that lead to crimes against them.
    • Avoiding share in Ancestral Property: Generally in rural areas parents think that all their ancestral property belongs to their sons and if they marry their daughters at an early age then they will be out of the share. 
    • Avoiding expenditure on Female Education: Usually families discriminate between boys and girls. Female children are considered a burden as they do not need to work and have to look after the household chores before and after marriage. 

    Impacts of Child Marriage

    • Human rights violation: Child marriage is a violation of human rights and dignity, which unfortunately still has social acceptance.
    • Harmful impacts: It has a serious impact on the education, health, and safety of the childrens.
    • Reduces Education Rates For Girls: Child marriage typically marks the end of a girl’s education. Once she’s married, she’s expected to take care of her husband and start having children, leaving little time for school or a career.
    • Traps families in a cycle of poverty: Child marriage might seem to make financial sense in the short term for struggling parents, but it can actually trap families in a cycle of poverty.
    • Contributes to higher fertility rates: Younger brides are more likely to have larger families because they have more child-bearing years during married life. They also usually face a greater inequality with their husbands, resulting in the wife having little to no say in when or how many children to have. 
    • Inabilities to Plan or Manage Families: Young girls exercise less influence and control over their children and have less ability to make decisions about their nutrition, health care and household management. 
    • Desire for Male Child: Due to desire for a male child, young girls and women are forced to conceive as many times as she can till she gives birth to a male child. 

    Laws and Policies

    • The Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929: It is also known as the Sarda Act. It was a law enacted to restrain the practices of Child Marriage.
      • Its main goal was to eliminate the evils placed on young girls who could not handle the stress of married life and to avoid early deaths.
      • This act defined a male child as 21 years or younger and a female child as 18 years or younger.
    • The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006: Under this act, the marriageable age for a male is prescribed as 21 years and that of a female is 18 years.
      • Child Marriage is prohibited in India as per the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006.
    • Hindu Marriage Act, 1956: Under Hindu Marriage Act, there are no certain provisions for punishing the parents or people who solemnized the marriage. 
      • A girl can get the marriage annulled only if she wants to get married before attaining the age of fifteen years and she challenges the marriage before turning eighteen.
    • Muslim Personal Law: Under the Muslim Laws, there is no bar to child marriage. The couple after marriage has an “option of puberty” known as Khayar-ul-bulugh in which they can repudiate the marriage after attaining the age of puberty. 
    • The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012: which aim at protecting children from violation of human and other rights. 
    • A parliamentary standing committee is weighing the pros and cons of raising the age of marriage for women to 21, which has been cleared by the Union Cabinet. 

    Issues 

    • Consequences of child marriage are dire, not only because it violates children’s rights, but also because it results in more infant and maternal deaths. 
      • Children born to adolescent mothers have a greater possibility of seeing stunted growth as they have low weight at birth. According to NFHS-5, the prevalence of child stunting is 35.5% in 2019-21.
    • Data shows that child marriage is a key determinant of high fertility, poor maternal and child health, and lower social status of women.
    • Centralised schemes like the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, need better implementation on the ground.
    • There is so much social acceptance of age-old customs that most people, including the administration, look the other way
    • Practices like marrying off all daughters of a family to the sons of another family. In such marriages, the elder sister is usually above 18 years and the ceremony is announced and wedding cards are printed in her name. The underage girls are married off a day earlier or separately the same day.

    Way Ahead

    • Multi pronged strategy needed: 
      • Eradication of poverty, better education and public infrastructure facilities for children, 
      • Raising social awareness on health, nutrition, 
      • Regressive social norms and inequalities. 
      • Strong laws, strict enforcement, 
      • Preparing an ideal situation on the ground to ensure that the girl child — girls with either or below primary level education have experienced higher levels of child marriage.
      • Girl child gets an education and preferably vocational training as well so that she can be financially independent.
    • State’s Efforts: 
      • States have launched many initiatives to improve the factors linked to child marriage, from education to health care and awareness programmes. 
      • For instance, West Bengal’s Kanyashree scheme offers financial aid to girls wanting to pursue higher studies. 
      • Bihar and other States have been implementing a cycle scheme to ensure girls reach safely to school; 
      • U.P. has a scheme to encourage girls to go back to school.
    • Empowering Girl Child:
      • The solution lies in empowering girls, creating proper public infrastructure and addressing societal norms. 
      • Getting down to the gram panchayat level, ensuring that Child Protection Committees and Child Marriage Prohibition officers are doing the job and activating community support groups. 
      • Such efforts can lead to Child Marriage Free Villages like in Odisha which now has over 12,000 such villages. 
    • Implementing Committee guidelines:
      • A series of such interventions — and recommendations of the Shivraj Patil Committee report in 2011 — have helped bring down the percentage of child marriages in Karnataka (from 42% in 2005-06 to 21.3% in 2019-20). 

    Source: TH