Child marriages see a sharp decline in India and eventually across the globe, according to the latest data from UNICEF. The data suggests that nearly 25 million child marriages were prevented across the world in last decade. The proportion of young women who entered into marriage before the age of 15 has declined from 12 per cent to 8 per cent in last fifteen years. Javier Aguilar, UNICEF’s chief of child protection, told Reuters, “India constitutes more than 20 percent of the world’s adolescent population and accounts for the highest number of child marriages in South Asia given its size and population. In the current trend, 27 percent of girls, or nearly 1.5 million girls, get married before they turn 18 in India. This is a sharp decline from 47 percent a decade ago.”
Girls are at greater risk than boys
According to the report, nearly 720 million women alive today were married before the age of eighteen.
Of these, nearly 33 percent child brides belong to India. The data of men (156 million) is not negligible, yet it is clear from the statistics that child marriage affects girls in much greater number than the opposite sex.
The data also shows that child marriages are more prominent in the economically weaker sections of the society. Females in the poorest quintile are 2.5 times more likely to marry in childhood than those living in the wealthiest quintile. For example, in India, the median age at first marriage is 19.7 years for women in the richest quintile compared to 15.4 for the poorest women. The chief reason is the structure of the society, where girls are seen as a financial burden by the families. Marrying them off is a way of cutting down the cost of rearing a member of the family. For many conservative households, the job of a woman is to take care of the household and bear children. So, there is a general lack of desire among parents to spend on educating girls.
Consequences for child brides go beyond denial of childhood.
UNICEF’s report also puts forward, the consequences of marriage at an early age. These young girls are denied education, and hence are financially dependent on others.
Many girls end up having many children to care for, while still young.
This is because they do not get a say in issues like consensual sex and family planning. Also, child brides are less likely to receive medical care during pregnancy. Moreover, due to the lack of awareness about safe sex, they are at a greater risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies.
It is therefore of utmost importance, that we carry forward the momentum with which we have been fighting child marriages. In fact, if we manage to accelerate our efforts to prevent child marriages, then by 2050 there will be 1 in 10 child brides in the world as compared to 1 in 4 today.
It will allow millions of girls to have a carefree childhood, away from the burdens of forced matrimony and motherhood. We need to keep seeking change in cultural perspective and motivate parents to educate their girls as much as boys. This will help us free numerous girls from a life of poverty, oppression, dependency and sickness.
On the home turf, the reports that suggest Indians are now keener to have daughters and decline in child marriages showcase the general shift in Indian mentality. Hopefully, they will attribute towards the cause with renewed energy and focus.
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.