Despite a strong law, 47% of the girls in India are married before they are 18

KumKum Dasgupta: Nearly 48% of the girls in India are married before the age of 18 years. This is despite the

existence of stringent Indian laws that make marriage of girls before the age of 18 a punishable offence, says a new analysis by Save the Children (STC), a non-profit organisation.
One girl under the age of 15 is married every seven seconds in the world, the report added.
Early marriage has a knock on effect on teen pregnancy, maternal deaths and high levels of girls dropping out of school (25.7% of women in India become pregnant when they are teenagers.)
The report —- Every Last Girl: Free to live, free to learn, free from harm —- has ranked countries in an index from the best to worst country in which to be a girl, based on child marriage, schooling, teen pregnancy, maternal deaths and number of female representatives in national government. India’s rank is 90 among 144 countries, which is below Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka.In September 2015, world leaders signed the Sustainable Development Goals and one of the promises in it is to end child marriage by 2030, but if current trends continue, the total number of women married in childhood will grow from more than 700 million today to around 950 million by 2030, and to 1.2 billion by 2050, the STC report added.
Key points about India
• India has largest population of child brides and Census 2011 reported 17 million children and young people between the ages of 10 and 19 (6% of the age group) were married, with girls constituting the majority (76%).
• Significant reduction has taken place for girls under 14 years, however no change in girls getting married between 16-17 years
Read: #Dayofthegirl: State of India’s girl child
• Poor quality of data on child and early marriage, results in limited understanding of factors contributing to its incidence
• 74% of children surveyed in India agree that a woman’s most important role is to take care of her home and cook for her family. 66% agreed in Rwanda, and 11% in the UK
• In Andhra Pradesh, India, girls spend nearly an hour and a half more each day on domestic work than boys
• In India caring for siblings is a primary reason why girls drop out of school early
• Research in India shows that women who make a greater contribution to household income have greater influence over household decision-making
Read: I am a girl child, would love to have a girl: Kareena Kapoor
What needs to be done
As various studies have suggested that there is a need for integrated programmes, instead of disjointed projects, addressing the structural causes should be implemented to address child marriage in a holistic way.
“India faces unique challenges with regard to the girl children. Discrimination in India against girls begins even before birth and the cycle of inequality continues to play out throughout their lives,” Thomas Chandy, CEO of Save the Children in India, told HT. “The age-old challenge can be addressed not merely by policies – we have to change mindsets in the rural as well as urban areas”.
Recommendations from the report
• Universalisation of Secondary schooling is key to delaying child marriage
• Build agency and educational aspirations of girls and parents
• Address persisting gender discrimination
• Enforcement of existing laws within an enabling environment
• Build a campaign against the practice of dowry and child labour
• Target the poorest and rural households
• Engage communities and young men and boys