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The battle to end child marriage

GS Paper 1

 Syllabus: Social issues


Source: UNICEF

 Context: According to UNICEF, multiple crises are threatening to reverse hard-earned gains in the decline in child marriage.


Child marriage:

  • It refers to any formal marriage or informal union between a child under the age of (18 for females and 21 for males in India) and an adult or another child.
  • Most child marriages involve girls, many of whom are in poor socio-economic conditions.


Data on child marriage:

  • Worldwide, an estimated 640 million girls and women alive today were married in childhood, or 12 million girls per year.
  • Child marriages have declined from 21 to 19% (globally) since the last estimates were released five years ago.
  • However, global reductions would have to be 20 times faster to meet SDG (5.3) of ending child marriage by 2030.


Status in India:

  • While India has recorded significant progress in recent decades, it still accounts for one-third of the global total (India’s child marriage rate is 21% as per NHFS-5).
  • 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.


Most affected regions:

  • South Asia continues to remain home to nearly half (45%) of the world’s child brides.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa is home to the second-largest global share of child brides (20%).


Highlights of the UNICEF’s findings:

  • The world is engulfed by a ‘Polycrisis’ – a cluster of related global risks with compounding effects, such that the overall impact exceeds the sum of each part.
  • Health and economic crises (rising poverty, income shocks), escalating armed conflicts, climate change shocks and the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 are forcing families into child marriage.
  • Girls living in fragile settings are twice as likely to become child brides as the average girl globally.

Fig: Factors Driving Child Marriage


Immediate and lifelong consequences on girls:

  • Less likely to remain in school.
  • Difficult for girls to access health care, social services and community support that protect them from child marriage.
  • Increased risk of early pregnancy → increasing the risk of child and maternal health complications and mortality.
  • Can also isolate girls from family and friends, taking a heavy toll on their mental health and well-being.


Laws and policy interventions in India:

  • The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012 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.
  • Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana: The government launched this scheme in 2015 to encourage parents to save money for the future of their girl child
  • Kanyashree Prakalpa Scheme: The West Bengal government launched this scheme in 2013 to promote the education and welfare of girls and prevent child marriage in the state.
  • National Plan of Action for Children: The plan includes strategies to prevent child marriage and promote education and healthcare for children
  • Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (BBBP) Scheme


Way ahead for India:

  • The solution lies in empowering girls, creating proper public infrastructure and addressing societal norms.
  • At the gram panchayat level, ensuring that Child Protection Committees and Child Marriage Prohibition officers are doing the job and activating community support groups.
    • Best practice: Odisha now has over 12,000 Child Marriage Free Villages.



It is possible to end child marriage, which requires unwavering support for vulnerable girls and families. The focus should be on keeping girls in school and making sure they have economic opportunities.


Insta Links:

ILO–UNICEF joint report on social protection for children