Child marriage refers to the marriage of a child younger than 18 years old, in accordance to Article 1 of the Convention on the Right of the Child. According to UNICEF, the proportion of girls getting married in India has nearly halved in a decade. 25 million child marriages were prevented worldwide in the last decade, with the largest reduction seen in South Asia — where India was at the forefront.
Also, according to the Census 2011 reveals that child marriage is rampant in India, with almost one in every three married woman having been wed while she was still under the age of 18 years.
Causes of Child Marriage in India
- Deeply entrenched and widely practised social customs with wide social approval is a major, often the most critical, driving factor of high prevalence of child marriage in states such as Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat.
- Poverty, high wedding costs and other economic considerations: political economy of child marriage is also determined by high demand for labour and high female work participation in certain geographic areas.
- Lack of easy access to schooling, especially at secondary level: According to UNICEF, a girl with 10 years of education has a six times lower chance of being pushed into marriage before she is 18.
- Political patronage due to social acceptance as politicians find it difficult to oppose the practice of child marriage as it may mean losing votes
- and support.
- Child marriage is also widely reported to be used as a disguise to traffic girls from poor and tribal families for either the sex trade or as cheap labour.
Implications of Child Marriage
- Early marriage deprives children of access to education and therefore to better opportunities in the future.
- It limits the child’s freedom of decision and contributes to intergenerational cycle of poverty.
- Child marriage is often associated with multiple health risks - young brides have limited access to, and use of, contraception and reproductive health services and information.
- The majority are exposed to early and frequent sexual relations and to repeated pregnancies and childbirth before they are physically mature and psychologically ready.
- Domestic violence thrives in an environment where women feel powerless and lack access to vital resources and decision-making powers.
- Child marriage violates the rights of boys and girls and undermines efforts to achieve sustainable development.
- It also affects society as a whole since child marriage reinforces a cycle of poverty and perpetuates gender discrimination, illiteracy and malnutrition as well as high infant and maternal mortality rates.
Steps taken to Reduce Child Marriage
The Women and Child Development Ministry has taken a number of steps to enhance the status of girl child and to address the problem of child marriage. Special initiatives are taken by State governments every year on Akha Teejthe traditional day for such marriages. The MoWCD has also developed a “National Strategy Document on Prevention of Child Marriage” and is currently drafting a plan of action on child marriage to guide all states in the implementation of strategies to prevent the problem. The suggested strategic areas of intervention to prevent child marriage are-
- Law Enforcement- The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, main piece of legislation to prevent child marriage, 2006 makes it illegal for girls to marry under 18 years and for boys under 21 years. Such laws need to be enforced by ensuring appointment of Child Marriage Prohibitio0n Officers, awareness of the law among communities and individuals, capacity building for the same, etc.
- Access to quality education and other opportunities since Education can be an important refraining factor from early marriage• Changing mindsets and social norms- Perceptions about gender and the role of women in the family and society, practices around marriage and puberty, and wide acceptance that marriage should be performed after puberty all contribute to child marriage.
- Empowerment of adolescent girls through schemes like SABLA which promote life skills training among girls.
- Knowledge and Data are at the base of shaping evidence-base interventions.
- Developing Monitorable Indicators in order to understand the impact of interventions on prevention of child marriage.
- Other laws that may provide protection to a child bride include the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, the Domestic Violence Act, 2005, and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012..