India has the highest number of child brides in the world. It is estimated that 47% of girls in India are married before their 18th birthday.
The rates of child marriage vary between states and are as high as 69% and 65% in Bihar and Rajasthan.
While fewer Indian girls are marrying before the age of 15, rates of marriage have increased for girls between ages 15 to 18.
India is a member of the South Asian Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC), which adopted a regional action plan to end child marriage. The regional action plan is to be implemented in 2015 – 2018. Find out more.
In many communities girls are seen as an economic burden and marriage transfers the responsibility to her new husband. Poverty and marriage expenses such as dowry may lead a family to marry off their daughter at a young age to reduce these costs.
Patriarchy, class and caste influence the norms and expectations around the role of women and girls in India. In many communities restrictive norms limit girls to the role of daughter, wife and mother who are first seen as the property of her father and then of her husband.
Controlling girls and women’s sexuality is an influential factor in the practice of child marriage too. Pressure towards early marriage aims to minimise the dishonour associated with improper female sexual conduct, often leading to marriages arranged around the time of puberty.
Poor educational opportunities for girls, especially in rural areas, also increase girls’ vulnerability to child marriage.
The legal age for marriage is 18 for women, 21 for men, according to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) of 2007.
The PCMA establishes punishments for those who do not prevent child marriages and creates Child Marriage Prohibition Officers. It includes a right to annul marriage if underage, but this relies on families to report the act.
A National Action Plan to prevent child marriages was drafted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2013, however, it has not yet been finalised.
The Government has used cash incentives (such as the Dhan Laxmi scheme and the Apni beti apna dhun programme), adolescents’ empowerment programmes (Kishori Shakti Yojana) and awareness-raising to induce behaviour change.
India is a member of the South Asian Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC), which adopted a regional action plan to end child marriage. The regional action plan is to be implemented in 2015 – 2018.
India is one of 12 countries selected to be part of UNFPA and UNICEF’s Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage.
* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old.
* According to UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2016.
14th Mar 2016
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