Child marriage in India has been practiced for centuries, with children married off before their physical and mental maturity. The problem of child marriage in India remains rooted in a complex matrix of religious traditions, social practices, economic factors and deeply rooted prejudices. Regardless of its roots, child marriage constitutes a gross violation of human rights, leaving physical, psychological and emotional scars for life. Sexual activity starts soon after marriage, and pregnancy and childbirth at an early age can lead to maternal as well as infant mortality. Moreover, women who marry younger are more likely to experience domestic violence within the home.
With support from the National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development (NIPCCD), this study’s major objectives were to:
- Assess the prevalence and incidence of child marriages, especially in the selected states of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh
- Analyze the various socioeconomic and cultural factors leading to child marriage
- Analyze constitutional and legal measures against child marriage and their implementation
The study used both secondary sources and primary data in order to establish attitudes and beliefs regarding child marriage with in communities, as well as attitudes and practices of key institutional actors such as police, government departments, community workers and Panchayat members.
Field visits and discussions revealed a multitude of factors that help sustain and even endorse the custom of child marriage, despite legal barriers. First,social groups follow traditions from previous eras without questioning contemporary relevance. Early marriage allows parents to waiver ‘responsibility’ of settling their children.
Secondly, economically weak and large families encourage the practice as it helps send off girl children early, while marriage of a boy brings an additional hand to assist in household and economic activities.
Third, members of communities practicing child marriage tend to have little to no formal education. Belief in religious scriptures and the idea that these contain prescription for early marriage drive families to fulfill this “obligation.” Fourth, early marriage ensures full “utilization” of fertility and childbearing capacity. Last but not least, strong caste ties limit the availability of suitable marital partners. As soon as parents identify a match, they make haste in conducting the marriage.
As a result of the findings, the study recommends the following:
- Increase awareness generation: All stakeholders should be sensitized and convinced about the negative impacts of child marriage.
- Gender sensitization programs: Gender training programs should be spread throughout the district for police and NGOs. Primary and secondary education for girls should be promoted.
- Checking loopholes in the law: Shortcomings must be corrected to strengthen the law.
- Training: Child Marriage Prevention Officers need to be trained for vigilance.
- Special police cells: Task forces must be set up to focus on cases of child marriage.
- Increased authority for NGOs: NGOs should be given the authority to report and intervene in cases of child marriage.