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In a decade since the last National Family Health Survey took place, the whole story of child marriages have changed in India. And while some states, including Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, showed exceptional growth, a total of 11 states still have a significant percentage of child marriages happening, which are above the current national average of 11.9%. The latest NFHS-4 report — conducted in 2015-16 — revealed that West Bengal tops the list of states having the most number of girls being married off between 15-19 years of age at 25.6%.

THE SCENARIO – THEN AND NOW

While the NFHS-3 was held in 2005-2006, when Bihar was at the top with 47.8% of child marriage cases, the percentage in Bihar has now dipped to 19.7%, but it is still above the national average. Jharkhand, which was at 44.7% in the previous report, has also shown a steep downward curve and stands at 17.8% child marriage cases, which is again above the national average. Rajasthan, which is famous for being synonymous with child brides, was 40.4% which has now dipped to 16.2%, showing phenomenal decrease in the last decade. And West Bengal, which was at 34%, hasn’t shown much of a difference as it tops the list today.

STATES SHOWING RISE IN CHILD BRIDE CASES

As a majority of states have shown improvement with awareness and development, two states stand out for having a marginal rise in percentage—Himachal Pradesh and Manipur. Earlier, Himachal Pradesh and Manipur had 3.3% and 7.1% instances of child marriages respectively. Now, the two states have 3.3% and 7.3% cases happening there.

Another major finding of the report is that while earlier, the highest percentage of child marriages happening in a state was at 47.8%, today that percentage of child brides has come down to 25.6%. And the report also shows that Kerala has the lowest percentage of child marriages happening at 2.4% followed by Jammu and Kashmir at 2.6%, Punjab at 2.7% and Uttarakhand and Goa both at 2.9%.

In an analysis of age do young girls between 15-19 years mostly get married, 19 is the age when 20.5% girls become child brides. Prevalence of marriage at 15 years of age has reduced to 2.7%

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MOST CHILD BRIDES ARE 19 YEAR OLD

In an analysis of what age young girls between 15-19 years mostly get married, 19 is the age when 20.5% girls become child brides. Prevalence of marriage 15 years of age has reduced to 2.7%.

What is pathetic about child marriage cases is that young teenage girls are then forced to bear children too. And with lack of education and family planning awareness, a substantial percentage of girls end up getting pregnant. The survey showed that of all the girls married off between the age of 15-19, almost a quarter of them had a child by age 17, and 31% by age 18. Goa tops the list of states with highest percentage of teenage pregnancy at 64% followed by Mizoram and Meghalaya at 61% and 53% respectively.

While the analysis of this survey brings in a few improvements — the major improvement being the dip in cases of child marriages overall across the country, there are still two states that saw a rise in instances and that is telling of the fact that we are nowhere close to complete eradication of the malaise. The fact that West Bengal showed such less reduction shows where the government and social service organizations need to put in their energies now. As we move forward, there is a need for newer strategies and resources to deal with the social evil of child marriage.

More Stories by Poorvi Gupta

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