Child Marriages in India – Two Steps Backward!

It is in common knowledge that the legal age of marriage for girls is 18 years and 21 years for boys. However, social factors and circumstances, age-old prejudices cloud the judgement – leading to child marriage as a solution to one thing or other. Child marriages are not confined to a single country but happens across the world – barring the girls from being empowered and at times, the boys too. Keeping this in mind, the Sustainable Development Goal 5, which focuses on ‘Gender Equality’ has set a target to stop child marriages entirely by 2030.

According to UNICEF report, about one in three of the world’s child brides live in India and about 102 million were married before turning 15 and were pregnant even before reaching adolescents. Among the states in India, 36 billion child brides have been reported to be in Uttar Pradesh. Other states with large population of child brides are Bihar, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Among the Southern states, Andhra Pradesh with 13 million tops the list followed by Tamil Nadu with 11 million. It has also been reported that about 60 % of the child brides who were married before turning 15 went through pregnancy before completing the adolescent period. Whereas those married after the age of 15 but before age 18, about 20% of them went through pregnancy before completing adolescent period. Those married before turning 15 tend to contribute to larger families. During the trying COVID-19 times when the entire focus of the world was on healthcare system, the child marriages saw a spike. United Nations Population Fund has estimated that COVID-19 will result in 13 million additional child marriages globally. Women Development and Child Welfare, India has reported that child marriages saw a rise of 27%. While rural areas are the hub of reports against child marriages, interestingly, “more than 25 percentage of child marriages in 2011 happened in urban districts. In other words, one out of five girls aged between 10-17 was married in urban districts in the ear 2011”, IANS reports (yourstory, 2017).

Even with the coming of Child Marriage Prevention Act, 2006, one of the reasons for its so not grand success can be the poor implementation and also the fact that people always find ways to try and tamper with the acts and laws. What actually force them to do so? What actually compels them to do – send off their buds away, forcing them to marriage? One of the reasons is being orphaned. COVID-19 has taken lives of many people, parents of many rendering the children orphan (Jejeebhoy, 2021). The lack of parents or unwilling relatives to take care of the orphaned, thus marriage. Financial constraints are another compelling factor. Families tend to marry all the girls together (if there is more than one girl and the family is drowning in poverty) in a single place to save money. It is sort of passing off the so-called burden.

It is important to bring back the focus of the world to the atrocities happening. While there are cases where girls have escaped, seeking help and prevention of child marriage, there are still alarming cases of ‘being stuck’ in the unlawful marriage. At this point of time, youth volunteers can be a powerful force. Bringing in more volunteers to spread awareness as well as for on ground action to prevent marriages from happening can be a helpful approach. The schemes of the government seem to fail to trickle down, more maybe because of the lack of effort in the lower vertical ladder. Bringing in the community in action can help to keep in check the local government and vice-versa.

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