From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not much
Mains level : Paper 2- Child marriage issue
There has been an ongoing debate on whether increasing the age of marriages can solve the problem of child marriage in India.
- 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.
- The Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021, fixes 21 years as the marriageable age for women.
Prevalence of child marriage in India
- NFHS-5 data show that about 25% of women aged 18-29 years married before the legal marriageable age of 18.
- Marginal decline: The proportion has declined only marginally from NFHS-4 (28%).
- Higher in rural India: Expectedly, the prevalence is higher in rural than urban India (28% and 17%, respectively).
- West Bengal has the highest prevalence (42%), followed by Bihar and Tripura (40% each).
- Oddly, the decline in child marriage has been paltry at best in these high-prevalence States.
- At the other end of the spectrum are Goa, Himachal Pradesh and Kerala (6% to 7%).
- 39% of child marriages in India take place among Adivasis and Dalits.
- The share of advantaged social groups is 17% and the remaining share is of Other Backward Classes.
Role of structural issues in adverse health and educational outcomes
- Impact: Studies associate early marriage of women with early pregnancy, lower likelihood of accessing ante-natal care, higher risks of maternal morbidity and mortality, poor nutritional status of women and poor nutritional and educational outcomes of children.
- These studies seem to provide a rather compelling case for increasing the age of marriage of women from 18 to 21 years, as a delayed marriage might offer significant public health dividends.
- Structural factors at play: But a closer reading of the evidence shows that the association between child marriage and adverse health outcomes does not emerge in a vacuum.
- Rather, it is abetted by structural factors, including social norms, poverty, and women’s education.
- Role of social norms: It is because of social norms in many regions and cultures that parents begin preparations for a girl’s marriage once she has reached menarche.
- Role of poverty: A large proportion of child marriages take place primarily because of poverty and the burden of the huge costs of dowry associated with delayed marriages.
- Role of education: The NHFS-5 data confirm that a significant proportion of child marriages takes place among women with less than 12 years of schooling and households that are socially and economically disadvantaged.
- The average age at marriage increases from 17 years among women who are illiterate and have had up to five years of schooling to 22 years among women who have had more than 12 years of schooling.
- This indicates that an increase in years of schooling goes hand in hand with an increase in age at marriage.
- While an increase in education is most likely to delay marriage, the increase in age at marriage may or may not increase women’s education.
Why the age of marriage of women matters
- Age of marriage has bearing on maternal mortality rates, fertility levels, nutrition of mother and child, sex ratios, and, on a different register, education and employment opportunities for women.
- It is also argued that other factors — such as poverty and health services — were far more effective as levers for improving women’s and children’s health and nutritional status.
- Child marriage curtail a girl’s opportunities to continue her education.
- And in turn, the lack of educational opportunities plays an important role in facilitating child marriage.
- The fact that about one-fourth of women (18-29 years) in India have married before 18 years despite the law tells us that legally increasing the age of marriage may not fully prevent child marriages.
- 1] Ensure education for at least up to 12 years: Much of the benefits can be reaped by ensuring that women complete education at least up to 12 years.
- Bangladesh shows that improving women’s education and imparting modern skills to them that increase their employability reduces child marriage and improves health and nutrition.
- 2] Educational attainment criteria in schemes: Schemes which ease the financial burden of marriage but the eligibility criteria of which should essentially link to educational attainment in addition to age demand attention.
- The lessons from Janani Suraksha Yojana and the zeal demonstrated in ending open defecation might provide valid insights here.
A legalistic approach to increasing the age at marriage will produce positive results only if it leads to an improvement in women’s education and skill acquisition for employability. In the absence of an enhancement in women’s schooling or skills, a legalistic approach to ending child marriage might become counterproductive.