ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Trends, Differentials and Determinants of Child Marriage in India

Evidences from Large-scale Surveys

Despite the law to prevent child marriage, the practice remains unabated in the country due to deep-rooted social and cultural norms. The cohort analysis of data from the National Family Health Surveys suggests that the prevalence of child marriage was around 58% during the decades of 1970s and 1980s, and it started declining, albeit at a slower pace, reached to 46% by 2000. The first decade of the 21st century witnessed faster decline with 21% of the girls aged 18–23 years marrying below 18 years of age, as per the estimates for the most recent reference period. The assessments of the government’s conditional cash transfer scheme to enhance value of the girl child seem to have influenced the attitudes of the parents, rather eliminating child marriage. The government’s cash transfer schemes needs revamping and is recommended to be routed through the educational system in the form of fellowships for higher studies and, in particular, vocational studies of the girls, rather than disbursing cash incentives to the family of the beneficiary girl.

The views expressed in the paper are that of the author and do not reflect that of the affiliated organisation. The suggestions and guidance provided by P M Kulkarni on analytical aspects, and fruitful discussions to enrich interpretation with Dhanashri Brahme and Shobhana Boyle from United Nations Population Fund are gratefully acknowledged.

Child marriage is a phenomenon in which girls or boys are married before they attain the minimum legal age at marriage, enforced by the law in a country. Girls who marry early are not only denied their childhood, they are often socially isolated and cut-off from family and friends and other sources of support, with limited opportunities for education and employment (UNICEF 2014). A girl marrying before attaining proper adulthood age poses significant adverse impact on not only her health, but also having lower levels of her agency and empowerment. Early marriages are also associated with early childbearing, which has higher risks of delivery complications and maternal and child morbidity as well as mortality (UNFPA 2013). Thus, the consequences of child marriage is far-reaching and it effects the health, social and economic status of the girl as well as her children.

The prevalence of child marriage has become a major policy issue in many developing countries and various international and civil society organisations, combating to end child marriage, have regarded it as a human rights violation. Although child marriage is not directly addressed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is linked to other rights and is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the right to free and full consent to marriage (Article 16). The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women states that the betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect and calls upon states to set legal minimum age for marriage and to make marriage registration compulsory (UNICEF 2008, 2009). The international community is increasingly aware of the negative impacts of child marriage on a wide range of development outcomes, and ending child marriage is now part as one of the targets (5.3) of the Sustainable Development Goals (s) (Wodon et al 2017).

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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