India continues to struggle when it comes to social evil of child marriage. Our country is home to the largest number of child brides, accounting for one-third of the global distribution of child brides. A new report ‘Factsheet Child Marriages 2019’ released by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) state that although child marriages in India have declined, a few states like Bihar, West Bengal and Rajasthan continue to carry on with the harmful practice with nearly 40 per cent prevalence of child marriages. This post looks at this social issue with focus on Rajasthan.
What is Child Marriage ?
The Prohibition of Child MarriageAct of 2006, which applies to all Indians except the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the renoucants of the union territory of Puducherry defines child marriage as a marriage to which either of the contracting parties is a child and and child for purposes of marriage is defined based on gender of the person i.e.
- If a male, it is 21 years of age,
- If a female, 18 years of age
UNICEF defines child marriage as any formal marriage or informal union between a child under the age of 18 and an adult or another child.
State of Child Marriages in Rajasthan
According to National Family Health Survey 2015-16, there has been a decline in prevalence of child marriage from 47 per cent (2005-06) to 27 per cent (2015-16). Despite a decline in number of girls getting married in India before the age of 18, nearly 1.5 million girls in India are child brides.
In 2018,National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) released a report on India Child Marriage & Teenage Pregnancy, based on NFHS-4 (2015-15). Important Facts regarding Child Marriages in Rajasthan from report are:
- Prevalance: Rajasthan has 16.2% prevalence of child marriage which is very high compared to the national average of 11.9%.
- Trend: Although, State has recorded more than 20% reduction in child marriages, but it still ranks among the top 12 states. (NFHS 4VS3).
- Rural vs Urban: Prevalence of girl child marriage is found more common in rural areas than urban areas. In Rajasthan child marriage in rural areas is 89.4% while in urban areas it is 10.6%.
- Caste: In Rajasthan the other backward classes (OBC) leads with 55% followed by SC at 22% and ST at 15% while other castes 7%.
- Wealth: Wealth index of the households is significantly related to child marriage amongst girls in India. Poorer the households, higher the chance of girls getting married early.
- Education: There is a correlation between early child marriage and the educational attainment of girls, with higher education delaying marriage.
- Secondary Education: Rajasthan comes at the third position in the lowest secondary completion rate by states amongst married girls in the age group of 15-19 years.
- Districts: Rajasthan’s 10 disctricts rank in the top 100 districts in country with high prevalance of child marriages. These are:
- Bhilwara – 36.4%
- Chittorgarh – 33.1%
- Sawai madhopur
Reasons of Child Marriage
While the roots of the practice vary across socities and cultures, poverty, lack of educational opportunities and limited access to health care perpetuate it.
- Some families marry their daughters off early to reduce their economic burden or earn income.
- Some believe that it will secure their daughters’ futures or protect them.
- Safety of the girl child from sexual violence and the inability of parents to guarantee such safety. There is a belief that marriage is a protection for girls against unwanted male attention and promiscuity. Early marriage is a way to ensure chastity and virginity of the bride.
- Lack of education and awareness about the consequences of child marriage.
- Poor implementation of the law and lack of will and action on the part of the administration.
Consequences of Child Marriage
- High maternal deaths: Girls who marry earlier in life are less likely to be informed about reproductive issues and because of this, pregnancy-related deaths are known to be the leading cause of mortality among married girls between 15 and 19 years of age.
- Infant Mortality: Early marriage resulting in early motherhood means placing both the young mother and her baby at risk. It lead to increase in the rate of infant mortality and birth of babies who have low birth weight, malnutrition and anaemia.
- Violence: Young girls in a child marriage are more likely to experience domestic violence in their marriages as opposed to older women.
- Trafficking: Marriage is also often used as the first step to trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation, forced labour or any other purpose. Continued preference for son leads to female foeticide resulting in fall in the number of girls available for marriage and hence buying of young brides, particularly in states with a skewed sex ratio.
- Education: Early child marriage violates the child’s right to education. Children remain illiterate and unskilled, which in turn limits their opportunities for economic employment and economic independence as an adult.
- Child marriage denies children their basic rights to good health, nutrition, education, and freedom from violence, abuse and exploitation.
Prevention of Child Marriage: Acts & Legalistaion
Child marriage was recognised as a social evil though the Child Marriage Restraint Act (CMRA) 1929, popularly known as the Sharda Act. It prohibited child marriages of girls below the age of 15 years and of boys below the age 18. In 1978, the law was amended to make it more effective and raise the minimum age of marriage by three years i.e. from 15 to 18 years in case of girls and from 18 to 21 years in case of boys.
To To overcome the shortcomings in existing law, the Government of India enacted the Prohibition of Child Marriages Act, 2006 (PCMA), which received the assent of the President of India on 10 January, 2007. The Act came into effect from 1 November, 2007.
In 2017, the Supreme Court had ruled that sex with an underage wife amounts to rape.
Nearly 165 villages in Rajasthan have so far resolved not to permit child marriages. Recently, Diyatara village in Bikaner, Rajasthan was declared ‘girl child friendly’, with the gram panchayat vowing not to allow even a single child marriage and to put an end to this social evil forever. The panchayat of the village passed a resolution that also pledged to end discrimination against girls, treat them as an equal gender, ensure they complete Class XII and facilitate their higher education.
In 2019, the district administration of Bundi has made printing the date of birth of both the bride and the groom on the wedding cards, mandatory. It’s also compulsory that the invites carry a warning stating that child marriages are punishable by law.
In 2016, UNICEF, together with UNFPA, launched the Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage in 12 of the most high-prevalence or high-burden countries including India. The joint programme has a 15 year strategy that works closely with the government and civil society to turn commitment into tangible action to end child marriage and transform the lives of adolescent girls, especially those aged 10-19 years.
As part of campaign, the agencies in collaboration with the State government of Rajasthan, has launched missed call based, edutainment channel called Naubatbaja that aims to build a mass movement against child marriage.
An increasing number of studies have highlighted the extremely harmful and traumatic effects of child marriage. Child Marriage is a violation of the fundamental right to a dignified life, as guaranteed by the Constitution, and so it should not be treated only as a social evil.
Addressing child marriages requires recognition of the factors that enable it. Improving rates of girl education, proactive government investments in adolescent girls, and strong public messages around the illegality of child marriages and the harm it causes, are basic steps required.
It is also required to bring coherence in different implied legislations and laws. Other acts like the Hindu Marriage Act should also be amended to ensure that the provisions in the said acts are the same as and do not contradict the Prohibition of Child Marriages Act, 2006. Further, registration of marriages within a stipulated period, of all the communities, viz. Hindu, Muslim, Christians, etc. should be made mandatory by the Government.