What is Child Marriage?

Any marriage of a female child younger than 18 years and a male child younger than 21 years is called as Child Marriage or Early Marriage (in accordance to the Article -1 of the Convention on the Rights of Child).

What is the legal age for marriage in India?

The legal age for marriage is 18 years for girls and 21 years for boys.

What is the scope of the problem?

There are an estimated 51 million child brides worldwide, the majority of them in West and East Africa and in South Asia. As per UNICEF’s The State of the World’s Children, 2010 report, it is estimated that more than 25,000 girls under the age of 18 are married every day.   In the developing world, one in three girls is married before she is 18; one in seven before she is 15. The practice is more common in certain regions of Sub-Saharan Africa which include Niger, Chad, Mali, Mozambique and Malawi and South Asia which include Bangladesh, Nepal and India.

What is Child Marriage Status in India?

India is one amongst 13 nations worldwide with some of the highest prevalence of child marriage. According to the 2001 census there are 1.5 million girls, in India, under the age of 15 already married. Of these, 20% or approximately 300,000 are mothers to at least one child.   The National Family Health Survey (2005-06) revealed that 44.5% of women between the ages of 20-24 years had been married before they turned 18. In some states the percentage is even higher: with Bihar on top with 69% followed by Rajasthan, 65.2%, Jharkhand 63.2%, Uttar Pradesh 58.6%, Madhya Pradesh 57.3%, Chhattisgarh 55%, and Andhra Pradesh 54.8%. The states with low prevalence include Himachal Pradesh 12.3%, Punjab 19.7%, and Kerala 15.4%.

What are the reasons of child marriage?

There are various reasons behind child marriage like, poverty, cultural practices, social pressure and the generalized belief that it offers protection. In some poor African societies young girls are considered to be properties of their parents who can attain greater wealth and are married in early years. The younger the girl, lesser the dowry, if she is married at a young age it reduces the economic burden on the family.    Another common notion is marrying the daughters at young age protects them from sexual assault, rape, premarital sexual activity and prevents STIs particularly HIV. High values have been placed on female virginity in Indian culture since very long. It is being considered shameful if a girl going to marry is not virgin. Hence, parents stand searching appropriate groom for their daughters even earlier to her puberty.

What sustains the practice of Child Marriage?

There are multiple reasons why child marriage practice sustains. The traditional mindset of people and the deep-rooted beliefs of the families that hold girls as liability and a burden who should be married and sent to the husband’s house as soon as possible. As the custom has been followed for centuries, there is an immense social pressure from the society to marry off children, especially girls, at a young age. Social pressure from within the community is one of the main reasons pressurizing parents into getting their children married so young. In light of this, the attack on two women government officials who had tried to stop child marriages should be seen in this context as it shows the seriousness of the issue.    Other reasons underlying the practice consist of the importance attached to virginity. Rural families consider the virginity of the girl as something very important and a matter of family honour. There is high amount of insecurity and anxiety related to safeguarding the virginity of the girl. Marriage is considered to be “safe to keep the girl protected from unwanted sexual advances; without such security, a girl who is unmarried and no longer a virgin, is considered to ruin the family reputation. If a girl loses her “virgin status” – whether through consensual sex or forced sexual assault- she is no longer considered suitable for marriage.   Moreover, dowry is one of the key reasons for the existence of this practice. It has been observed that in many cases, greater dowry is demanded from parents of older girls. Hence, poverty-stricken parents are forced to marry their daughters to avoid such dowries. What is more, sometimes in families where there are many daughters, the parents conduct their marriages on the same day to save on extra expenditure. Child marriages continue due to poor implementation of the existing laws. Even though some people are aware about the law, they still practice child marriage. In addition, the lack of political will also enables this practice unabated.

What are the consequences of child marriage?

  Child brides are more likely to die at a younger age than unmarried girls, suffer from health problems, live in poverty and remain illiterate. Some important consequences of Child Marriage are:    Health consequences:    • Complications during childbirth: As girls aged 10 to 15 years have small pelvises and are not ready for childbearing, childbirth causes a major threat to their health and life expectancy. Two million women worldwide suffer from obstetric fistula, a debilitating complication of childbirth especially common among physically immature girls (ICRW, 2006). According to The State of the World’s Children Report (SOWC) 2007, South Asia Edition, “In India, one out of every three adult women is underweight and therefore at risk of delivering babies with low birth weight”.   • Maternal Mortality: Girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die during child birth or pregnancy than older women. Pregnancy-related deaths are the leading cause of mortality for girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide. In addition to high death rate there are other complications such as eclampsia, postpartum haemorrhage, sepsis, HIV infection, malaria and obstructed labour   • Infant Mortality: Mortality rates for babies born to mothers under age 20 are almost 75% higher than for children born to older mothers. The children that survive are more likely to be premature, have a low birth weight, and are more at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS.    • Health Problems: Premature childbirth can lead to a variety of health problems for mothers, including fistula, a debilitating condition that causes chronic incontinence. Girls with fistula are often abandoned by their husbands and ostracized by society. There are approximately 2 million girls living with fistula, and 100,000 new cases every year. Furthermore, there is increased risk of acquiring sexually transmitted infections such as HSV2 and gonorrhoea which further enhances the vulnerability to HIV.   • HIV/AIDS: Married girls may be more likely to contract sexually transmitted disease, including HIV/AIDS, than unmarried girls. Young girls are more physically susceptible to STD's, have less access to reproductive education and health services and are often powerless to demand the use of contraception.   • Mental Health: Child brides are more likely to experience domestic abuse, and violence than their peers who marry later. Violence and abuse can lead to post-traumatic stress and subsequently depression. Women who married at young age suffer from mental disorders throughout their lifetime, the commonest being the major depressive disorder.   Social consequences:   • Poverty: Child brides - already poor - are isolated and denied education and employment opportunities, making it difficult for them break out of the cycle of poverty.   • Illiteracy: Child brides are often pulled out of school and denied further education. Their children are also more likely to be illiterate.   • Abuse and Violence: There is a higher incidence of domestic violence and abuse among the child brides. .   • Isolation and Abandonment: Child brides are often isolated from their peers and abandoned specially when they develop health problems like fistula. Besides this, the difference in age between the couple augments the problem, husbands are usually much older and therefore there is very little in common with them. This leads to a feeling of rejection and isolation.   

How does child marriage impede our development efforts?

As mentioned in the above question there are several dire consequences of child marriage. In countries where prevalence of child marriage is higher, it results in poor access to education, economic opportunities and social networks.  Those married early are often are forced to drop out of school. Lack of education would mean significantly less economic opportunities in the future leading to poor financial status. Child brides are more likely to live in poverty and continue to live in poverty due to low level of education and unawareness about life skills. The consequences of child marriage as mentioned above affect almost all the MDGs and thus hampers the overall development of our country.

Why is it important to raise awareness of child marriages in India?

As health and women development professionals have been concerned about discrimination against women and girls, which is a universal phenomenon. It is found that one of the best ways in which people can really expand their concern about prejudice against women would be to address the issue of child marriage. Ten million girls a year, a hundred million in a decade — that’s a huge number of human beings!

Why is it important to work on child marriage?

  Women form about 50% of the population, and if development professionals do not engage and provide proper training for them, it’s going to have an impact. Child marriage also affects six out of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are directly and negatively affected by the prevalence of child marriage:   - Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger - Achieve universal primary education - Promote gender equality and empower women - Reduce child mortality - Improve maternal health - Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases   There is no hope of attaining them if we do not do something drastic to end child marriage.

What can be done to prevent child marriage?

Child marriage is a complex issue and will need a complex intervention. Three commonly used and successful strategies for prevention of child marriage are, improving the girls’ education status, employment and poverty reduction.    Education delays the age at which a woman marries, provides an alternative opportunity for girls other than marriage and increases socio-economic status and earning potential for girls. Girls with a secondary education are up to six times less likely to marry young compared to girls with little or no education.   The world's poorest countries have the highest rates of child marriage. Families often marry girls off to lessen their economic burden and provide a future for their daughters. Girls from poor families are about twice as likely to marry young as girls from better-off households. Girls who earn a wage may be seen as an economic asset, not a burden, by their families. Therefore employment and poverty reduction can go a long way to improve child marriage situation.  

What is the global scenario of legislation against child marriages?

Child marriage has been prohibited through a number of International Conventions and other instruments on global level. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 states through its Article 16 (I) that men and women of full age have the right to marry and form a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and its dissolution. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending parties.   According to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child 1990 and its Article XII- Child Marriages and brothels of girls and boys shall be prohibited and effective action including legislation shall be taken to specify the minimum age of marriage to be 18 years.    The convention on the Rights of Child, 1989 (CRC- 198) has been satisfied by all the countries with the exception of the US and Somalia. A number of articles within the CRC hold relevance to child marriage like Article 3, Article 19, Article 24, 28 29 and 36.

Are there any laws and policies dealing with Child Marriage in India?

There are following main laws dealing with the issue of child marriages in India: The Child Marriage (Restraint) Act, 1929 The Prevention of Child Marriage Act, 2004 Compulsory Registration of Marriages Act, 2006 Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006

What is The Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929?

The Child Marriage Restraint Act, also called the Sarda Act, (revised on 1 Oct. 1978) as a law to restrict the practice of child marriage. It was enacted on April 1, 1930, extended across the whole nation, with the exceptions of the states of Jammu and Kashmir, and applied to every Indian citizen. Its goal was to eliminate the dangers placed on young girls who could not handle the stress of married life and avoid early deaths. This Act defined a male child as 21 years or younger, a female child as 18 years or younger, and a minor as a child of either sex 18 years or younger. The punishment for a male between 18 and 21 years marrying a child imprisonment of up to 15 days, a fine of 1,000 rupees, or both. The punishment for a male above 21 years of age imprisonment of up to three months and a possible fine. The punishment for anyone who performed or directed a child marriage ceremony imprisonment of up to three months and a possible fine, unless he could prove the marriage he performed was not a child marriage. The punishment for a parent or guardian of a child taking place in the marriage became imprisonment of up to three months or a possible fine. It was amended in 1940 and 1978 to continue raising the ages of male and female children. 

What is The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006?

The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) was put into place to address and fix the shortcomings of the Child Marriage Restraint Act. The change in name was meant to reflect the prevention and prohibition of child marriage, rather than restraining it. The previous Act also made it difficult and time consuming to act against child marriages and did not focus on authorities as possible figures for preventing the marriages. This Act kept the ages of adult males and females the same (18 years for girls and 21 years for boys) but made some significant changes to further protect the children. Boys and girls forced into child marriages as minors have the option of voiding their marriage up to two years after reaching adulthood, and in certain circumstances, marriages of minors can be null and void before they reach adulthood.   All valuables, money, and gifts must be returned if the marriage is nullified, and the girl must be provided with a place of residency until she marries or becomes an adult. Children born from child marriages are considered legitimate, and the courts are expected to give parental custody with the children's best interests in mind. Any male over 18 years of age who enters into a marriage with a minor or anyone who directs or conducts a child marriage ceremony can be punished with up to two years of imprisonment or a fine.   The act calls for the instatement of a Child Marriage Prohibition Officer, who is responsible for ensuring no child marriage takes place in their jurisdiction by approaching the courts for an injunction, collecting evidence against people, creating awareness about the negative effects of child marriage, collect data concerning child marriages, etc. A child marriage prohibition officer is deemed a public servant in this act.

What is Compulsory Registration of Marriages Act, 2006?

According to the Compulsory Registration of Marriages Act, 2006, all marriages need to be registered in India from the year 2006.  It states that every Indian citizen needs to register his or her marriage within ten days of their marriage, irrespective of religion. Such compulsory registration would be of critical importance to prevent child marriages in the country.

Child marriage is a social problem in India. How do you change people’s mind-sets and get them to value girls?

We need to expose people to instances where girls have been educated. For this we have got very many role models in India. India has the first woman Speaker in Parliament, got the leader of the opposition and has chief ministers who are women. One of the most common features of all these women is that they are educated, but has it reduced their worth? No, their worth has been enhanced. Yes, it may take time, but there is a momentum, in the country to stop child marriage as people are getting aware and laws and policies of the country are becoming supportive.

What efforts have been initiated by the government in order to fight with the menace of child marriage?

To fight with the menace of child marriage, the government has initiated many preventive and punitive steps. Few of the efforts include campaigns to promote awareness of the legal age at marriage, enforcement of the CMRA, 1978, registration of marriages, investment schemes, including the Balika Samridhi Yojana, intended to delay the age of marriage and change family and community attitudes towards girls and initiatives that may affect age at marriage, including educational and livelihoods programs that can provide socially accepted alternatives to marriage, increase girls capacities and self assurances and counter society’s devaluation of girls. Few government policies of this area are:   -    National Health Policy 2002 -    National Education Policy 1986 -    National Youth Policy 2003 -    Population Policy 1999 -    National Policy for Women Empowerment, 2001

What approaches has been adopted by the NGOs/CBOs or any other groups to tackle child marriages?

There are many groups tackling child marriage. Their approaches include:   -    Empowering girls at risk of early marriage with information, skills and economic opportunities.   -    Enhancing the education of girls and women.   -    Establishing community dialogues to discuss the risks of early marriage with parents and community members.   -    Encouraging the adoption and implementation of laws protecting girls and demanding more effective enforcement of the laws   -    Running programs that provide girls with viable alternatives to marriage.

What are the challenges to end child marriages?

The following are the key challenges to end child marriages:   -    Poor legislative framework. Child marriage has been outlawed in most countries. However, laws preventing child marriage often fail to be enforced, and child marriage continues to take place in many communities.   -    Lack of accurate data. Girls are not always registered at birth, leaving their precise ages in question. Hence there is always a lack of accurate data.   -    Entrenched attitudes. In many communities child marriage is an ancestral tradition that has been gone unquestioned for generations. Efforts to address this harmful practice need to target whole communities and not just individuals.   -    A neglected issue. Although child marriage is widely practiced and affects millions of girls, their families and the development of their communities, the issue has yet to be widely recognized.