Marrying before getting into double figures in age ?
May sound cruel and absurd. But not at all uncommon in India.
Latest analysis of 2011 census data reveals that 12 million Indians had married before they had reached double figures in age. Also around 120 million Indians had married before reaching the age of 18.
Many in India wrongly believe child marriages mostly happen among Muslim community. The data actually shows Hindus has an edge over Muslims in child marriages. 84% of under 10 marriages are from among the Hindus (80% of the population) while 11% are from the Muslims (13.5% of population).
Women from urban areas, on average, marry more than two years later than their rural counterparts..
The report also noted that the level of teenage pregnancy and motherhood is nine times higher among women with no education than among women with 12 or more years of education.
As many as 5.4 million (44%) married children under 10 were illiterate–80% of them female–indicating how lower levels of education correlate with early marriage.
A silver lining in these bleak statistics is there is a trend of decrease in child marriages.
As many as 102 million girls (30% of female population) were married before 18 in 2011; the number was 119 million in 2001 (44% of female population), a decrease of 14 percentage points over the decade.
Among boys, 125 million were married before 21 years of age (42% of male population) in 2011; the number was 120 million in 2001 (49% of male population), a decrease of 7 percentage points over the decade.
The legal age for marriage in India is a respectable 18 for girls and 21 for boys. Unfortunately the Muslim personal law gives an exception for girls. They can marry under that law on reaching 15.
Child marriages are a violation of child rights. It has a negative impact on physical growth, health, mental and emotional development, and education opportunities. It also affects society as a whole since child marriage reinforces a cycle of poverty and perpetuates gender discrimination, illiteracy and malnutrition as well as high infant and maternal mortality rates
According to UNICEF there are many challenges in eliminating child marriages.
There are many causes of child marriage in India and multiple barriers to its elimination. Poverty, weak enforcement of laws, patriarchal social norms intended to ensure family honour are significant factors that increase the risk of girl being married off while still a child. Also, girls from poor households are more likely to marry as children, since marriage becomes a solution to reduce the size of the family. The cost of marriage plays a big role in families sliding further into poverty, and these high costs contribute to girls being forced to marry when other ceremonies are taking place in the family or when older siblings are being married.
India, especially the rural areas, need huge development, both economically and socially, in a much more equitable way, to completely eliminate this curse of child marriage.