Child marriage increasing in Kerala, TN, Himachal and J&K

Bihar, Rajasthan, Assam, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh had the highest prevalence of girl children being married off at the age of 15 in 2011

 Photo by Parwaz Khan/Hindustan Times via Getty Images  
Photo by Parwaz Khan/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Ashlin Mathew

Every hour, nearly 150 child marriages and almost 3,603 per day take place in India. Out of the entire married female population in India, around 30.2 per cent are child brides, states an ActionAid India report, Eliminating Child Marriage in India: Progress and Prospects, which analysed data from the 2011 Census.

Rural areas accounted for 75 per cent of total child marriages in the country in 2011. Seven states (Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Bihar, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh) together contributed to 70 per cent of child marriages in the country, stated the report. Bihar (17 per cent), Rajasthan (16 per cent), Assam (9.5 per cent), West Bengal (8.4 per cent) and Madhya Pradesh (7.7 per cent) had the highest prevalence of girl children being married off at the age of 15 in 2011.

While this is grave, what many have missed is that the states with a traditionally low prevalence of child marriages such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir have experienced a moderate rise in child marriage recently. In Kerala, during 2005–06, the prevalence of child marriage dropped to 15.6 per cent but rose to 23.3 per cent in 2011–12. A similar behaviour has been seen in Himachal Pradesh too. In 2005-06, it was 11.6 and it rose to 13 per cent during 2011-12.

“It is difficult to point out specific reasons without an in-depth study in these states. At the outset, based on my understanding of demographic profile and marriage dynamics of India, I can say that the reasons are different for these states. A few districts of Gujarat, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have experienced a decline in child sex ratio in Census 2011 which hints for worsening balances in male-female ratios in marriageable ages,” said the report author, Srinivas Goli, who is with the Centre for the Study of Regional Development.

Kerala is experiencing one of the highest female migrations mainly for education and employment, and “this might be creating a phenomenon called a shortage of eligible brides in the state. When this happens; bridegrooms tend to choose from younger cohorts as an adjustment,” added Goli. Moreover, Gujarat, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam and West Bengal are the states with in-migration which might create a kind of diffusion of the culture of early marriage as most of the in-migrants are from north and central Indian states which have a cultural hub of child marriages.

The growing threat of love marriages, specifically outside caste, religion and economic status as a result of increasing urbanisation, education, penetration of social media and cinema is also seen a reason for the higher prevalence of child marriages in urban areas and all these states have a considerable proportion of urban population and urban growth.

“A shocking finding is that the child marriages are highly prevalent, not only, in poorer states and poorer socioeconomic groups, but also significantly occurring in better-off states and among higher socio-economic groups,” added Goli.

The promising find is that states with high child marriage prevalence such as Andhra Pradesh (77.6 per cent), Madhya Pradesh (72.6 per cent), Chhattisgarh (67 per cent) and Haryana (58.2 per cent in the initial period 1992–93, have achieved considerable progress against child marriage during the period 1992 to 2012, with the figures standing at 38.4 per cent, 40 per cent, 36.6 per cent and 23.3 per cent, respectively, for these states.

What has also helped is education. “Education is one of the single most major factors that contributed to the decline in child marriages in majority of the states. The rise in the awareness of legal ages of marriage and consequences of violating the law in communities and parents has also helped in the decline of child marriages. Andhra Pradesh is an example of one such state,” said Goli.

Although, a majority of the states with a high prevalence of child marriage have progressed in the period 1992 to 2011, the quantum of progress in states such as Bihar, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Odisha is not enough to bring convergence in the levels of child marriage across the states, states the report.

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