Child marriage usually refers to a social phenomenon practiced in some societies in India, where a young child (usually a girl below the age of fifteen) is married to an adult man. A second form of practice of child marriage is that in which the parents of the two children (the girl and boy) arrange a future marriage. In this practice, the individuals (the boy and girl) do not meet one another until they reach the marriageable age, when the wedding ceremony is performed.
Recent analysis by UNICEF points out that one in three of the world’s child brides live in India. It has also warned India against the increase in child marriages owing to the adversaries of COVID-19. To achieve the commitment of ending child marriages by 2030, it becomes important to integrate the COVID -19 responses with child marriage elimination efforts.
The factors that encourage its subsistence are usually a combination of poverty, the lack of education, continued perpetration of patriarchal relations that encourage and facilitate gender inequalities, and cultural perspectives that encourage the phenomenon to thrive.
- Child marriage is widespread across India, with nearly half of brides married as girls.
- While there has been a decline in the incidence of child marriage nationally (from 54 per cent in 1992-93 to 33 per cent today) and in nearly all states, the pace of change remains slow, especially for girls in the age group 15-18 years.
- Child marriage is more prevalent in rural areas (48 per cent) than in urban areas (29 per cent).
- There are also variations across different groups, particularly excluded communities, castes and tribes – although some ethnic groups, such as tribal groups, have lower rates of child marriage compared with the majority population.
- Drop out of school, have a low-paid job and limited decision-making power at home. A girl with 10 years of education has a six times lower chance of being pushed into marriage before she is 18.
- 40% of the world’s 60 million child marriages take place in India according to the National Family Health Survey.
- India has the 14th highest rate of child marriage in the world, according to the International Center for Research on Women.
- Lack of education: A big determinant of the age of marriage is education. Around 45% of women with no education and 40% with primary education married before the age of 18, according to NFHS-4.
- Seen as a Burden: Economically, child marriages work as mechanisms that are quick income earners. A girl child is seen as a leeway to a large dowry, to be given to her family upon her marriage.
- Poverty: In terms of economic status, women from poor households tend to marry earlier. While more than 30% of women from the lowest two wealth quintiles were married by the age of 18, the corresponding figure in the richest quintile was 8%.
- Social background:Child marriages are more prevalent in rural areas and among Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
- Trafficking: Poor families are tempted to sell their girls not just into marriage, but into prostitution, as the transaction enables large sums of money to benefit the girl’s family and harms the girl. There is apathy towards their girls and the money by selling their girls is used for the benefit of their sons
- Girls are often seen as a liability with limited economic role. Women’s work is confined to the household and is not valued. In addition, there is the problem of dowry. Despite the fact that dowry has been prohibited for five decades (Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961), it is still common for parents of girls in India to give gifts to the groom and /or his family either in cash or kind. The dowry amount increases with the age and the education level of the girl. Hence, the “incentive” of the system of dowry perpetuates child marriage.
- The families and girls who might benefit from social protection programmes are not always aware of them and these schemes are often limited to providing cash transfers without the accompanying messages to address the multi-dimensional nature of child marriage.
- Poverty is the main reason behind early marriages in rural areas as most families have large family sizes.
- With such families, most parents are unable or unwilling to take care of their children.
- Early marriages are therefore seen as opportunities to reduce this burden.
- Others who cannot feed or send their children to school, give young girls off marriage to older men.
- Some parents arrange marriages between their children and their creditors as a way of settling debts.
- Without the safety net of schools, the girl child being forced into marriage is cut off from any possible communication with a teacher or counselor.
- Most of them do not have access to child helplines though the government has set these us.
- There was 88 percent increase in child marriages across the country in August 2020 as compared to August 2019, as per a reply by Union Ministry of Women and Child Development to a RTI sought by Rajya Sabha MP.
- Many people in India have lost their jobs and life savings during the pandemic. This has forced parents to marry off their daughters at an early age to reduce the financial burden.
- Apart from poverty, weak law enforcement, patriarchal norms and concern about family honor are factors contributing to early marriage during the COVID- 19 pandemic.
- West Bengal is one of the five states in India that have a high prevalence of early marriages. Though 12% of girls between 15 and 19 years of age are married off nationally, in West Bengal the figure stands at 25.6%.
- Madhya Pradesh recorded 46 child marriages between November 2019 and March 2020, a figure that that jumped to 117 in just three months of the lockdown from April to June 2020, data provided by ChildLine India
- According to ChildLine India, across India 5,214 child marriages were reported in the first four months of lockdown between March to June.
- UNICEF has said that in Madhya Pradesh where child marriages are a constant challenge, economic pressures due to the pandemic has pushed poor parents to marry off girls early.
- As many as 204 child marriages were performed in 25 out of 33 districts in Telangana during the lockdown period from March 24 to May 31 in 2020.
- Child marriage negatively affects the Indian economy and can lead to an intergenerational cycle of poverty.
- Girls and boys married as children more likely lack the skills, knowledge and job prospects needed to lift their families out of poverty and contribute to their country’s social and economic growth.
- Early marriage leads girls to have children earlier and more children over their lifetime, increasing economic burden on the household.
- Child marriage is estimated to cost economies at least 1.7 percent of their GDP.
- It increases total fertility of women by 17 percent, which hurts developing countries battling high population growth.
- As per IRCW study, the welfare benefit in ending child marriage is estimated to be $22.1 billion globally in the first year (2015). This number increases to $566 billion annually by 2030, for a cumulative welfare benefit of more than $4 trillion. Considering how one out of three such marriages happen in India, this impact is huge on India.
- Decreased household sizes would lead to an increased availability of funds which then could be used to pay for food, education, health care and other expenses for other members of the household.
- The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929.
- The object is to eliminate the special evil which had the potentialities of dangers to the life and health of a female child, who could not withstand the stress and strains of married life and to avoid early deaths of such minor mothers.
- It extends to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir and it applies also to all citizens of India within and beyond India.
- Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006
- This Act replaced the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 which was enacted during the British era.
- It defines a child to mean a male below 21 years and female below 18 years.
- “Minor” is defined as a person who has not attained the age of majority as per the Majority Act.
- It envisages preventing child marriage with punishments of rigorous imprisonment for two years and/ or fine of Rs. 1 lakh.
- The Act also provides for the appointment of Child Marriage Prohibition Officer whose duties are to prevent child marriages and spread awareness regarding the same.
- State Governments are requested to take special initiative to delay marriage by coordinated efforts on Akha Teejthe traditional day for such marriages;
- Advertisements in the press and electronic media educating peoples about the issue of Child Marriage etc are also being taken up.
- Platforms such as the International Womens Day and the National Girl Child Day are used to create awareness on issues related to women and to bring to the centre stage issues such as child marriage.
- Through the Sabla programme of Women and Child Ministry, adolescent girls in the age group of 11 to 18 years are imparted training with regard to legal rights of women which also includes the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006.
- It is one of the most effective strategies to protect children against marriage.
- When girls are able to stay in school an attitudinal change can also occur towards their opportunities within the community.
Congregating child protection workers:
- One way of keeping a check on child marriages during the pandemic would be to ensure that there is a strong cohort of child protection workers among essential health workers.
- India has a robust system of grassroots workers who have done commendable work in ensuring that health and other social security services reach people on in these dire times.
- If such workers were incorporated into the system, they could keep a check on girl children at risk of early marriage and take steps to avert these.
- This could be in the form of awareness counseling and helping some benefits reach the family concerned.
Gender sensitization programs:
- Gender training programs should be spread throughout the district for police and NGOs. Government of India along with organizations like UNICEF and NGOs should make the efforts for the implementation of the convergent national strategy, which includes:
- Capacity-building on laws, support mechanisms such as a child marriage telephone hotline should be implemented in true letter and spirit. E.g: Odisha Child Marriage Resistance Forum.
- Imparting Life skills, protection skills, higher education and employment opportunities should be ensured to each and every girl child.
- Primary and secondary education for girls should be promoted.
- Working with influential leaders, oaths and pledges, counselling, folk and traditional media.
- Government’s partnerships with civil society organizations and communities are key to supporting community mobilization efforts and mindset changes and partnerships with the media are very important for raising awareness of child marriage.
- programs and sectors at all levels should be converged, in particular with education and social protection schemes and programmes.
- Government of India has already enacted laws like Child marriage prohibition act 2006 and started many initiatives like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana to incentivize the people to give equal treatment to their daughters as their sons.
- Conditional Cash Transfer schemes addresses issues more towards the individual rather than the household, which is the focus of the government.
- Certain national schemes, is, related to maternity benefits and the survival and education of the girl child which addresses the problem of child marriage directly or indirectly. E.g.: Dhanalakshmi, Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent girls (SABLA)
- CCTs have benefits of legal protection of the marriage as well as ensuring education of girls.
Government of India has the biggest responsibility towards ensuring better childhood of every child. Every child irrespective of socio-economic status is entitled to the quality education, health facilities and freedom and space to enjoy childhood.