Child Marriage

News: Reports suggest that more child marriages have been noticed during the Covid pandemic.

Background:

  • Data from the fourth round of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS4) in 2015-16 shows that even before Covid, one in four girls in India was being married before 18. Around 8 per cent of women aged 15-19 years were mothers or pregnant at the time of the survey. The first phase findings of NFHS5 (2019-20) show that the needle has not moved substantially on ending child marriage.

Impact of Child Marriages:

  • Child marriage violates girls’ human rights. It makes them almost invisible to policy.
  • It cuts short their education, harms their health, and limits their ability to fulfil themselves as productive individuals participating fully in society.
  • The low domestic status of teenage wives typically condemns them to long hours of domestic labour; poor nutrition and anaemia; social isolation; domestic violence; early childbearing; and few decision-making powers within the home.
  • Poor education, malnutrition, and early pregnancy lead to low birth weight of babies, perpetuating the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition.
  • The costs of child marriage include teenage pregnancy, population growth, child stunting, poor learning outcomes for children and the loss of women’s participation in the workforce.

Solutions:

  • Conditional cash transfers (CCTs) have been the main policy instrument introduced by most states in the last two decades to end child marriage. CCTs alone cannot change social norms. We need a comprehensive approach.
  • Legislation is one part of the approach. Karnataka amended the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act in 2017, declaring every child marriage, making it a cognisable offence.
  • These include expansion of secondary education, access to safe and affordable public transport, and support for young women to apply their education to earn a livelihood. Expansion of education goes beyond access. Girls must be able to attend school regularly, remain there, and achieve.
  • States can leverage their network of residential schools, girls’ hostels, and public transport, especially in underserved areas, to ensure that teenage girls do not get pushed out of education.
  • Teachers should hold regular gender equality conversations with high school girls and boys to shape progressive attitudes that will sustain into adulthood.
  • Empowerment measures, too, are required to end child marriage, such as community engagement through programmes like Mahila Samakhya. Children’s village assemblies in the 2.5 lakh gram panchayats across India can provide a platform for children to voice their concerns.
  • Field bureaucrats across multiple departments, including teachers, anganwadi supervisors, panchayat and revenue staff, all of whom interact with rural communities, should be notified as child marriage prohibition officers.
  • Most important of all, decentralising birth and marriage registration to gram panchayats will protect women and girls with essential age and marriage documents, thus better enabling them to claim their rights.
  • We need to adopt a comprehensive approach to deal with the problem of child marriage. The approach should include focus on education and along with legal measures.