Child marriage around the world:

Child marriage around the world:


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.

Legal age of 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.

Government response

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.

Regional campaign to end child marriage

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.

Global Programme to End Child Marriage

India is one of 12 countries selected to be part of UNFPA and UNICEF’s Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage.


  • UNICEF, The State of the World’s Children 2015
  • UNFPA country profile: India, 2012
  • DHS 1998-1999; DHS 2005-2006
  • National Family Health Survey (India) NFHS 2005-06
  • UNICEF, The State of the World’s Children, 2015
  • Nirantar and AJWS, Early and Child Marriage. A Landscape Analysis, 2015
  • ICRW, Solutions to End Child Marriage: What the Evidence Shows, 2011

UNICEF 2016 % Married by 15
UNICEF 2016 % Married by 18

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old.

International Ranking*


* According to UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2016.

Stories related to India

Photo credit: Save the Children

Ending child marriage in South Asia: a regional action plan

More from India

  • How one Indian school is working to end child marriage (Time)
  • Department of Women and Child Development launches campaign to end child marriage in Rajasthan (Times of India)
  • At 11 months, she was married. Now, this teen is fighting back (NDTV)
  • Troubled waters: Child brides in flood-ravaged Assam, India (Al Jazeera America)
  • India: Home to 1 in 3 child brides (IPS News)

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