Imagine living in a world where you were forced to get married when you were still a child. For many young girls in India, this horrific ordeal is a reality. India has the highest number of child brides in the world. According to the website Girlsnotbrides.org, it is estimated that 47 percent of all girls in India are married before their 18th birthday. The rates of child marriages vary between states, and are reported to be as high as 69 percent in Bihar and 65 percent in Rajasthan.
Even though there are now fewer Indian girls who are getting married before the age of 15, the rates of marriage for girls that are between the ages of 15 and 18 have increased. India is a member of the South Asian initiative to End Violence Against Children (or SAIEVAC). They adopted a regional action plan to end child marriage which is to implemented in 2015 – 2018. But at this time, child marriages are still going on.
The Reason Why Girls Marry So Young in India
There are several reasons why so many Indian girls get married at a young age. In many communities the girls are seen as a financial burden for their families. When they are married, the burden then transfers to the responsibility of her new husband. Poverty and marriage expenses such as a dowry, may cause a family to marry off their daughter at a young age in order to reduce their financial debt.
In many parts of the country, traditional restrictions limit females to only being a daughter, wife or mother, who are all seen as the property of either their father or their husband. Controlling girls and women’s sexuality is another factor that commonly influences child marriage. Pressure to an early marriage is seen as a way to minimize the dishonor associated with improper female sexual conduct. This can lead to marriages that are arranged around the time when puberty starts.
Girls that live in communities with few educational options or influences can also contribute to a girl’s vulnerability to enter into marriage at a very early age.
Child Marriage is a Very Significant Issue
Statistics from the Children International website say that 27,397 girls under the age of 18 are married each day. It is common for poor women to marry younger than their wealthier peers. It is a very dangerous reality for these young girls as their families see marriage as a way to secure their daughter’s future, but in reality, marrying a girl off usually creates more problems for her in the long run.
- 1 in 4 Women worldwide was a child bride.
- 1 in 7 Girls in the developing world is married before age 15.
- Roughly 13% of all Indian girls are married by their 15th
- 33% of the world’s child brides live in India.
- Nearly 50& of all Indian women are married by the age of 18.
- Girls that are married before the age of 18 are twice as likely to be domestically abused by their husbands.
- Child brides are less likely to receive medical care while they are pregnant.
- Pregnancy is the leading cause of death worldwide for girls ages 15 to 19.
- Child marriage can put an end to a girl’s education. Over 60% of all child brides in the developing world have had no formal education.
- A married girl may be excluded from school by law, tradition or other circumstances.
It is Possible to End Child Marriages in India
The legal age of marriage is 18 for women and 21 for men according to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2007. The PCMA establishes punishment for those who do not prevent child marriages and create Child Marriage Prohibition Officers. They have the right to annul a marriage if either person is underage, but they also rely on the families to report the act, which rarely ever happens.
A National Action Plan to prevent child marriages was established in 2013 by the Ministry of Women and Child Development. However, it has not yet been finalized. The Government has used cash incentives (such as the Dhan Laxmi scheme and the Apni beti apna dhun program) as well as adolescents’ empowerment programs and awareness raising to enforce a change in the belief that it is okay to marry off a teenage girl.
Child marriage violates a girl’s rights to good health, a proper education and opportunities that they are entitled to. It exposes girls to violence and abuse throughout their lives and traps them in a vicious cycle of poverty. Globally the rates of child marriage are on the decline but the progress is not happening fast enough. With more awareness we can help to save the lives of many young girls who deserve to have a better future.