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Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
UNICEF 2017 % 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 (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)
What's the child marriage rate? How big of an issue is child marriage?
4% of boys were married off before their 18th birthday.
India has the highest absolute number of women married or in a union before the age of 18 in the world – 15,648,000.
Child marriage is more prevalent in rural areas than in urban areas and, in general, rates of child marriage are highest in the central and western parts of India. For instance, child marriage rates in districts of Rajasthan and Bihar range from 47% to 51%.
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:
- Harmful traditional practices: Patriarchal social norms consider that married women and girls belong to their husband’s family and women are generally seen as an economic burden. Girls are expected to be adaptable, docile, hardworking and talented wives. Customary laws based on religion are a major barrier in ending child marriage in India.
- Control over girls’ sexuality: Until a daughter is married, her chastity is considered to be a marker of her father’s honour. This motivates men to marry off their daughters early. Social pressure to marry at puberty can be enormous within certain castes. Some girls are promised in marriage before they are born in order to “secure” their future. Once they reach puberty, gauna or “send-off” ceremonies take place and they are sent to their husband’s home to commence the married life.
- 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 young age because less dowry is expected for younger brides.
- Level of education: Women with no education are six times more likely to get married than those with ten years education or more. 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 their biological parents in old age. Further, given a lack of jobs and employment opportunities, there is a low value for education especially in rural areas where distance and low quality of education are active barriers to girls’ education beyond middle school.
- 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.
- Violence against girls: Some girls are married off due to lack of safety and fear of violence against women and girls in public spaces, with many cases of being reported every day. However, a 2014 study found that child brides in India are at greater risk of sexual and physical violence within their marital home.
Poor law enforcement: There are persisting legal loopholes that fuel impunity for child marriage. There is also low awareness of the law and barriers to access justice for women and girls.
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.
In 2014 the CEDAW Committee raised concerns about high school dropout rates among young girls in India, making them particularly vulnerable to child marriage.
During its 2017 Universal Periodic Review, India agreed to consider recommendations to improve enforcement of legal provisions against child marriage.
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. However as of 2020, the legal age for boys remains at 21 years.
In 2019, at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, India committed to address all forms of violence against all women and girls, but without mention of 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 it was shelved with the change of government in 2014. Key components included law enforcement, changing mind-sets and social norms, empowering adolescents, quality education and sharing knowledge.
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. In 2018, the Global Programme reached almost 2.3 million girls through adolescent groups, which enabled their participation in and access to health information and life skills training.
Due to its decentralised governance structure, in recent years there has been more initiatives at the state level with the development of action plans. Whilst some states have taken limited action, Rajasthan, one of the states with the highest prevalence of child marriage, launched a Strategy and Action Plan for the Prevention of Child Marriage in March 2017 and a large-scale advocacy campaign.
In 2018, Jharkhand state developed a state action plan to end child marriage and Bihar state launched a Strategy and Action Plan for the Prevention of Child Marriage. As part of it, 101 public servants were trained as Child Marriage Prohibition Officers, and task forces were set up to increase awareness and reporting of cases of child marriage.
West Bengal also has a state plan of action for children, which includes child marriage. Other states, including Gujarat and Odisha, consolidated child protection schemes in 2018.
Previous governmental schemes have included 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 for girls with no exceptions. For boys, the legal age of marriage is 21.
There have been a number of court cases in recent years where petitioners have argued that the provisions of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act do not apply to Muslims as marriages between Muslims are governed by Muslim Personal Law under the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937. In 2017, the Supreme Court of India indicated that the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 has priority over personal laws.
Center for Reproductive Rights, Child Marriage and Personal Laws in South Asia. International Standards Requiring Governments to End Human Rights Violations Based On Religious Norms, 2014, https://www.reproductiverights.org/sites/crr.civicactions.net/files/documents/ChildMarriage_PersonalLaw_7.7.14.pdf (accessed December 2019).
Center for Reproductive Rights, Ending Impunity for Child Marriage in India, 2018, https://reproductiverights.org/document/ending-impunity-for-child-marriage-in-india-normative-and-implementation-gaps (accessed December 2019).
Dasra, Marry me later: preventing child marriage and early pregnancy in India, 2014, https://www.dasra.org/resource/ending-child-marriage (accessed December 2019).
Government of Rajasthan, State Strategy and Action Plan for Prevention of Child Marriage, 2017, https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/SSAP-Child-Marriage.pdf (accessed December 2019).
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Nairobi Summit, Intensify our efforts for the full, effective and accelerated implementation and funding of the ICPD Programme of Action and Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, Government of India, [website], 2019, http://www.nairobisummiticpd.org/commitment/intensify-our-efforts-full-effective-and-accelerated-implementation-and-funding-icpd (accessed December 2019).
Nirantar Trust, Early and Child Marriage in India, a Landscape Analysis, 2015, http://www.nirantar.net/uploads/files/EM%20Report%20-%20English%20%5BSummary%5D.pdf (accessed December 2019).
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Supreme Court of India, Independent Thought vs Union of India on 11 October, 2017, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/87705010/ (accessed December 2019).
The Indian Express, Prohibition of Child Marriage Act to prevail over personal laws: HC, 2015, https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/ahmedabad/prohibition-of-child-marriage-act-to-prevail-over-personal-laws-hc/ (accessed December 2019).
UN CEDAW, Concluding Observations on the Combined Fourth and Fifth Periodic Reports of India, 2014, p.9, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CEDAW/C/IND/CO/4-5&Lang=En (accessed December 2019).
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UNICEF global databases 2020, based on Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), and other national surveys. Population data from United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2019). World Population Prospects 2019, Online Edition. Rev. 1.
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United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), The Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage – 2018 Annual Report Country Profiles, 2019, https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/resource-pdf/UNFPA-2.PDF (accessed December 2019).
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Ending child marriage in India, [undated], https://www.unicef.org/protection/files/Final_India_Unicef_Rosa_Online.pdf (accessed December 2019).
World Bank and International Center for Research on Women, Economic Impacts of Child Marriage: Global Synthesis Report, 2017, http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/530891498511398503/pdf/116829-WP-P151842-PUBLIC-EICM-Global-Conference-Edition-June-27.pdf (accessed December 2019).
* 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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