From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not much
Mains level : Paper 2- Issue of child marriage
Reports suggest that more child marriages have been noticed during the Covid pandemic.
Covid-19 and Girls
Socio-economic impacts of Covid-19 are gendered, evident in the form of educational inequality, sexual violence, and increased household burden.
- Increased domestic violence: In India, the National Commission for Women reported 2.5 times to increase in domestic violence during the initial months of nationwide lockdown.
- Abuse & Trafficking: Closure of schools and pandemic induced poverty has increased the vulnerability of children especially the girl child to abuse and trafficking
- School dropout: UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report (2021) throws light on increased educational inequalities for adolescent girls during the Covid-19 crisis. UNESCO estimates that around 11 million girls may not return to school.
- School Closures pushed Children into Labour: In 2021, says UNESCO, 24 million children may not find their way back to schools after the pandemic. Any child who is not in school is a potential child laborer.
- Child Marriages: India witnessed an increase in the number of child marriages since 2020. Girls are further at risk – married off early, these child brides are also often child laborers.
- Reduced Education Budget: Despite knowing the impact of the Pandemic on the education system & thus on Children’s future, the Union budget has Rs 5,000 crore less to spend on education for children this year.
- Digital gender gap: The digital gender gap deters girls’ remote education and access to information.
- It is defined as a marriage of a girl or boy before the age of 18 and refers to both formal marriages and informal unions in which children under the age of 18 live with a partner as if married.
- UNICEF estimates suggest that each year, at least 1.5 million girls under 18 get married in India, which makes it home to the largest number of child brides in the world – accounting for a third of the global total.
- A recent study by the Lancet shows that up to 2.5 million more girls (below the age of 18) around the world are at risk of marriage in the next 5 years because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Prevalence of child marriage in India
- 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 percent 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.
Why did Child Marriages have increased during Lockdowns?
- Lack of Alert Mechanism: Earlier, when child marriages happened at wedding halls, temples, etc, there were people who would alert the relevant authorities or activists who would be able to reach on time to stop it.
- But now, with marriages happening at homes, we may get fewer alerts and our going there could be treated as trespass.
- Pandemic Induced Pressures: Economic pressures due to the pandemic have pushed poor parents to marry off girls early.
- With no schools, the safety of children, particularly girls, was a major reason for the increase in violence against children and child marriages.
Causes for Child Marriages
- Age Factor: Some parents consider the age period of 15-18 as unproductive, especially for girls, so they start finding a match for their child during this age period.
- Further, the Right To Education Act makes education free and compulsory up to the age of 14 only.
- Insecurity: Law and Order are still not able to provide a secure environment for the girls in adolescent age, so some parents get their girl child married at a young age.
- Other Reasons:
- Political and financial reasons,
- Lack of education,
- Patriarchy and gender inequalities, etc.
Consequences of child marriage
- Violation of human rights: Child marriage violates girls’ human rights. It makes them almost invisible to policy.
- Impact on education and health: It cuts short their education, harms their health, and limits their ability to fulfill themselves as productive individuals participating fully in society.
- The low domestic status of teenage wives typically condemns them to long hours of domestic labor; poor nutrition and anemia; social isolation; domestic violence; early childbearing; and few decision-making powers within the home.
- Malnutrition: 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.
What should be the policy interventions to end child marriage?
- CCTs: 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.
- Legislative measures: Legislation is one part of the approach.
- Karnataka amended the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act in 2017, declaring every child marriage, making it a cognizable offense.
- Expansion of education: 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 them into adulthood.
- Empowerment measures: Empowerment measures, too, are required to end child marriage, such as community engagement through programs 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.
- Government actions driving social change: 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.
- Decentralizing birth and marriage registration: Most important of all, decentralizing 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.
Consider the question “What are the consequence of child marriage? Suggest the measures to deal with the issue.”
We need to adopt a comprehensive approach to deal with the problem of child marriage. The approach should include a focus on education and legal measures.