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Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18

* References

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)

Photo credit: Graham Crouch | Girls Not Brides

Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18

* References

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)

What's the child marriage rate? How big of an issue is child marriage?

27% of girls in India are married before their 18th birthday and 7% are married before the age of 15.

According to UNCIEF, India has the highest absolute number of child brides in the world – 15,509,000.

Are there country-specific drivers of child marriage in this country?

Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that girls are somehow inferior to boys. In India, child marriage is also driven by:

  • Poverty: Child marriage is more common among poorer households, with many families marrying off their daughters to reduce their perceived economic burden. Girls are often married off at a younger age because less dowry is expected for younger brides.
  • Betrothal: Some girls are promised in marriage before they are born in order to “secure” their future. Once they reach puberty, guana or “send-off” ceremonies take place and they are sent to their husband’s home to commence married life.
  • Level of education: Many families consider girls to be paraya dhan – someone else’s wealth. This means that a girl’s productive capacities benefit her marital family, and educating daughters is therefore seen as less of a priority than educating sons, who are responsible for taking care of biological parents in old age.
  • Household labour: Girls are often married off at puberty when they are deemed most ‘productive’ and can take care of children and conduct housework. The labour of young brides is central to some rural economies. The practice of atta satta sees two extended families exchange girls through marriage so neither family is worse off in terms of household labour.
  • Traditional customs: Customary laws based on religion are a major barrier in ending child marriage in India. Social pressure to marry at puberty can be enormous within certain castes.
  • Gender norms: There is generally a lower value attached to daughters, and girls are expected to be adaptable, docile, hardworking and talented wives. Child marriages are sometimes used to control female sexuality, sanctify sex and ensure reproduction.
  • Pre-marital sex: Marriage is used to preserve the purity of girls as soon as they reach puberty and, sometimes, to ensure that they are not “corrupted” by men of lower castes. There is a high premium placed on virginity, and as such it is sometimes considered more punya (holy) to marry off younger girls. Fathers sometimes lose credibility within communities if their daughters have sex or get married without their consent. Differentiation is made between jaangdaan (when a girl is so young she can sit on her father’s lap during a marriage ceremony) and pattaldaan (when she has attained puberty and can sit on a pedestal beside her father).
  • Violence against girls: Some girls are married off due to fear of kharab mahaul – the corrupted external environment – and reports of the rape of women in public spaces. However, a 2014 study found that child brides in India are at greater risk of sexual and physical violence within their marital home.

What has this country committed to?

India has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. The government did not provide an update on progress towards this target during its Voluntary National Review at the 2017 High Level Political Forum.

India acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1993, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.

India is a focus country of the UNICEF-UNFPA Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage, a multi-donor, multi-stakeholder programme working across 12 countries over four years.

India is also a member of the South Asian Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC), which adopted a regional action plan to end child marriage from 2015 – 2018.

Representatives of the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), including India, asserted the Kathmandu Call to Action to End Child Marriage in Asia in 2014. As part of its commitment, India will ensure access to legal remedies for child brides and establish a uniform minimum legal age of marriage of 18.

During its 2017 Universal Periodic Review, India agreed to consider recommendations to improve enforcement of legal provisions against child marriage.

In 2014 the CEDAW Committee raised concerns about high school dropout rates among young girls in India, making them particularly vulnerable to child marriage.

What is the government doing to address this at the national level?

A National Action Plan to prevent child marriages was drafted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2013, but has not yet been finalised. Key components include law enforcement, changing mind-sets and social norms, empowering adolescents, quality education and sharing knowledge.

However due to its decentralised governance structure, in recent years there has been greater movement at the state level in terms of the development of state-level action plans. Whilst some states have taken limited action, Rajasthan launched a Strategy and Action Plan for the Prevention of Child Marriage in March 2017.

The government has also 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 encourage behaviour change related to child marriage.

What is the minimum legal framework around marriage?

According to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 the minimum legal age of marriage in India is 18 years with no exceptions.

There have been a number of recent court cases where petitioners have argued that the provisions of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 do not apply to Muslims as marriages between Muslims are governed by Muslim Personal Law under the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937. This interpretation of the application of marriage laws has been consistently rejected by the Indian judiciary.


Center for Reproductive Rights, Child Marriage and Personal Laws in South Asia, 2014, (accessed February 2018)

Dasra, Marry me later: preventing child marriage and early pregnancy in India, 2014, (accessed June 2018)

International Center for Research on Women, District Level Study on Child Marriage in India, 2015, (accessed February 2018)

Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, National Family Health Survey 2015-2016, 2017,
(accessed June 2018)

Nirantar Trust, Early and Child Marriage in India, a Landscape Analysis, 2015,
(accessed June 2018)

South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children, [website], 2018, (accessed February 2018)

UNICEF-UNFPA, Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage, 2017, (accessed February 2018)

UNICEF India, Child Marriage, [website], 2018, (accessed February 2018)

UN CEDAW, Concluding Observations on the Combined Fourth and Fifth Periodic Reports of India, 2014, p.9, (accessed February 2018)

UN General Assembly, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: India, 2017, p.22, (accessed February 2018)

World Bank and International Center for Research on Women, Economic Impacts of Child Marriage: Global Synthesis Report, 2017, (accessed February 2018)

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)

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