Child Marriage In India: And You Thought it was Over…

Posted on July 28, 2009 in Society

Anshul Tewari

When we talk about children in India and their future, we talk about education, reforms, sustainable development and much more. But when we talk of such progressive steps we forget that in the heart of the real India lives a tradition ruining lives of millions of children. Despite India’s economic and educational reform efforts in the last decade, the prevalence of child marriage remains high. Statistics are elusive, but estimates are that 40 to 50 percent of marriages in India involve a girl under 18 or a boy under 21, the legal ages for marriage. A tradition prominent in the rural areas of India, child marriage destroys millions of lives every year. The child not only suffers from a psychological shock, but the tender age also poses a number of risks to the physical being of the poor child.

So let’s know more about child marriage and it’s effects. Do post your comments and let your voice reach out to everyone.

From causing multiple pregnancies, female sterilization, infertility to still born fetus, the girl child is often the one to bear the burden. At an age when all that a child must care for are his/her studies and play, the children are married off and are buried with the burden of running a family. According to UNICEF’s estimates, over 60 million (around the world) women aged 20-24 were married or in union before the age of 18.

Factors that influence child marriage rates include: The state of the country’s civil registration system, which provides proof of age for children; the existence of an adequate legislative framework with an accompanying enforcement mechanism to address cases of child marriage; and the existence of customary or religious laws that condone the practice.

A Violation of Human Rights

In many parts of the world parents encourage the marriage of their daughters while they are still children in hopes that the marriage will benefit the children both financially and socially and relieve financial burdens on the family. In actuality, child marriage is a violation of human rights, compromising the girls’ development and often resulting in early pregnancy and social isolation, with little education and poor vocational training reinforcing the gendered nature of poverty. The right to ‘free and full’ consent to a marriage is recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – with the recognition that consent cannot be ‘free and full’ when one of the parties involved is not sufficiently mature to make an informed decision about a life partner.

An International Issue

The literature suggests that many factors interact to place a child at risk of marriage. Poverty, protection of girls, family honour and the provision of stability during unstable social periods are considered as significant factors in determining a girl’s risk of becoming married while still a child. It has been that found little overall change in the average age at marriage for age cohorts born between 1950 and 1970 in most regions, as well as little change in the incidence of child marriage. Focusing primarily on Benin, Colombia, India and Turkey, strong correlations between a woman’s age at marriage and the level of education she achieves, the age at which she gives birth to her first child and the age of her husband. Women who married at younger ages were more likely to believe that it is sometimes acceptable for a husband to beat his wife and were more likely to experience domestic violence themselves. The age gap between partners is thought to contribute to these abusive power dynamics and to increase the risk of untimely widowhood, although noted that older husbands may be better providers for the household.

Closely related to the issue of child marriage is the age at which girls become sexually active. Women who are married before the age of 18 tend to have more children than those who marry later in life. 97 per cent of women surveyed in India in 1992-1993 did not use any contraception before their first child was born. However, the Population Council and UNICEF found that, in Pakistan, a substantial number of young married women indicated an interest in the use of contraception in the future. Pregnancy related deaths are known to be a leading cause of mortality for both married and unmarried girls between the ages of 15 and 19, particularly among the youngest of this cohort.

Strategies to end the practice of child marriage

# Evidence shows that the more education a girl receives, the less likely she is to marry as a child. Improving access to education for both girls and boys and eliminating gender gaps in education are important strategies in ending the practice of child marriage. Legislative, programmatic and advocacy efforts to make education free and compulsory, as well as to expand Education for All programming beyond the primary level, are indicated by the strong significance of educational attainment in terms of reducing the number of girls who are married. Increasing the level of compulsory education may be one tactic to prolong the period of time when a girl is unavailable for marriage.

# It is also important to capitalize on the window of opportunity created by the increasing gap in time between the onset of puberty and the time of marriage by providing substantive skills enhancing programmes and opportunities. There is a need to develop methods to protect girls at risk of child marriage and to address the concerns of girls and women who are already married by ensuring the fulfillment of their right to a full education and providing them with life skills-based training to ensure that they can earn a livelihood.

# Efforts are also required to protect girls who are in union. Decreasing the pressure on young women to conceive through education and advocacy on the dangers of early motherhood should be considered. Similar consideration should be given to ways to improve access to effective contraceptive methods.

# Services for survivors of domestic violence should be accessible. Outreach efforts should consider targeting women who were married before age 18 as potentially in need of assistance. Mapping child marriage levels within countries may be a useful practice for programmatic purposes when determining where to launch new prevention campaigns. It can also be used to track future progress by comparing child marriage levels at different points in time.

# Further data collection and research is also required to explore the impact of child marriage on boys and men. The demand-and-supply relationship of child marriage should be qualitatively explored to illuminate dynamics, such as the reasons why households marry their children and why men prefer younger brides, in order to inform programming strategies.

So please DO NOT just read this article and feel bad for the poor children who get married. If you have a view or thought in your mind then don’t let it go waste. Post a comment NOW and let your voice reach out to the world.

Source for figures: UNICEF global databases, 2007, based on MICS, DHS and other national surveys, 1987—2006.

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