New Report Lifts Lid on ‘Shocking’ Child Marriage Data, Makes Plea to Raise RTE Age to 18

A report released by CRY draws a parallel between education and child marriage, claiming the disruption or lack of education as one of the major hurdles in the abolition of child marriage.

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A report by CRY has shown the extent of the social problem of child marriage in India. Credit: Reuters

New Delhi: A day after the Centre admitted before the Delhi high court that child marriages were indeed taking place in India and the decision to retain a girl’s minimum age for marriage as 15 years was taken under the amended rape law to protect a couple from its purview, the child’s right organisation, Child Relief and You (CRY), released a report stating that child marriage is more prevalent in North India, with nearly 30% of all married persons in Rajasthan being “victims of child marriage”.

The report by CRY has shown the extent of the social problem of child marriage.

Relying on Census 2011 data, it has claimed that at present over 10 million men and 35 million women, who are married and living in North India, were married when they were children. “Topping the list is Rajasthan where almost one third (30%) of the currently married persons were victims of child marriage. Close on heels is Madhya Pradesh with 26% followed by Uttar Pradesh and Haryana at 21% and 20% respectively,” it said.

Observing that “these figures are higher than the national average of 19%,” the report by CRY also stated that there is a vast difference between the age of marriage of men and women, with the latter being three times more likely to be married off as a child.

“The figures for these northern states are extremely shocking and reflect a huge gap in the system, this despite legislations and enhanced awareness on the issue. Child marriage is deeply entrenched in patriarchy, poverty and illiteracy and is widely practiced under the garb of tradition, culture and protection. Even now child marriages continue to be addressed as a social evil and not seen as a violation of child rights. It not only denies them access to education, but also makes young girls vulnerable to abuse and domestic violence,” said the regional director of CRY, Soha Moitra.

The organisation also pointed to the numerous health risks attached to this age-old practice. “Child marriage culminates into premature pregnancy, often leading to high maternal and infant deaths. There is also a risk of giving birth to low weight babies, which in a long term can lead to malnutrition,” it said.

In absolute terms, the report claims that Uttar Pradesh has the highest incidence of child marriages at 13.5 lakh, with Ghaziabad district – a satellite township of the national capital – ranking the second highest among all districts, followed by Allahabad and Agra.

According to the report, Rajasthan has recorded nearly 7.5 lakh incidences of child marriage, with the capital city Jaipur and Jodhpur posting the highest number of cases. Madhya Pradesh also recorded nearly five lakh cases of child marriage, with Indore and Bhopal figuring right at the top in the state.

In Haryana, Faridabad – a district bordering the National Capital of Delhi – reported the highest number of cases.

Commenting on this social malaise, Moitra said, “while the government should ensure stricter implementation of the law [including strengthening registration of births and marriages to establish the age of the child] and prosecution of offenders, it is extremely crucial to influence the behavior and attitude of the communities for a lasting change.”

Drawing a parallel between education and child marriage, the organisation has claimed the disruption or lack of education as one of the major hurdles in the abolition of child marriage. “An out of school child is more likely to be married off quickly.”

The report stated that although several children do not have any access to education, even among those who do have an access to it, the dropout rate seems to be of major concern.

The children falling in the 14-18 year age bracket are outside the purview of the Right to Education Act and are therefore most likely to drop out of school. These children, in particular girls, become most vulnerable to child marriage, trafficking and child labour, the report said, demanding the scope of the Act to be extended up to the age of 18 in order address this problem.

In its submission before the Delhi high court, the Centre, through the Ministry of Home Affairs, defended its decision to retain the minimum age of girls to marry at 15.

Responding to a public interest litigation, which had stated that an “inconsistency” had crept in through the amended rape law as it protected a man for the offence of unnatural sex with his minor wife, the Centre said the amended section 375(2) of Indian Penal Code, which dealt with the issue, had borne in mind the fact that “the social, economic and educational development in the country is still uneven and child marriages are taking place”.

“It has been decided to retain the age of 15 years under exception 2 of section 375 (rape) of the IPC so as to give protection to husband and wife against criminalising the sexual activity between them,” it said, adding that ‘”although the age of consent is 18 years and child marriage is discouraged, marriage below the permissible age is avoidable but not void in law on account of social realities.”