One in Five girls are married before they turn 18: Shocking reality of Child Marriage in India

Remember Balika Vadhu, a TV show that created quite an uproar when it came out in 2008, addressing the issues of child marriage on mainstream. That was 2008, since then times have changed, society has changed, access to information and education has undergone a change. We might feel so, but reports say otherwise, bringing us to the reality beyond the comforts of our metros.

The Sustainable Development Goals report 2024 by the UN, has revealed that one in five girls in India are married before they turn 18. UNICEF report reveals that India has the highest number of child brides in the world- 223 Million. 

Being in metros or tier 1 and 2 cities, child marriage as an issue could come across as unreal to many people who think that it’s no more a problem. But to give another reality check, a 2019 report by UNICEF says that one out of every three world’s child brides is from India. 

We often sit back thinking that child marriage like practices happened only in the past and today, we have progressed and we live in an egalitarian society. In 1929 a law was passed regarding a ban of the practice and later on, in 2006 there was an update regarding the age, for women-18, for men-21. Despite the law, things happen under the cover. 

In some areas, rural, sub-urban a few families consider women getting married early as a wise decision as that saves them from further risks of getting raped. How ironic, we trap women to save them! Poverty, illiteracy, orthodox mindsets are the few core reasons for child marriages still taking place in India. Poverty brings parents under the pressure of getting their daughters married off early as the girl of younger age won’t cost that heavy dowry. In some very orthodox regions, girls are married as soon as they attain puberty, as the fear of them having sex with somebody else from a different caste or any other religion is quite an alarming instance for the father. Women as commodities are transferred from one patriarchal control to another, from ‘Pita’ (father) to ‘Pati’ (husband) if we see! 

Shockingly, sometimes girls are conditioned to that belief pattern that it is good for them to get married and that the only goal in their life is to take care of their husbands, raise children and do household chores. We can’t blame the person, or the government or the law, patriarchy is deeply embedded in our culture, and child marriage adds up to it and as well as receives from it. 

In some rural areas of Bihar, child marriage is such a normalized practice, that nobody ever saw it with an eye of criminality. Three little girls once fled to the nearby city and as a penalty, their parents got them married immediately. Nobody could save them, and they were made to believe that this is something that’s the result of their audacity and they should pay a price for it. The usual saying that the parents know the best for their girls justifies their choices for their girls, no matter that they are not being righteous. Some representatives like Om Prakash Chautala (Former Haryana Chief Minister) advocated the idea that child marriages are going to help women from gender-based crimes happening now and then. 

Child marriage is inhuman if it deprives a young woman of her agency and derails her from her ambitions. The government has brought some initiatives for sure, but how far have they been executed, is still something under the question. A national action plan was certainly drafted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2013 but has not yet been finalized. The government has used cash incentives as well, such as the Dhan Laxmi scheme and Apni Beti Apna Dhun Programme, adolescents’ empowerment programs Kishori Shakti Yojna and awareness-raising to encourage a thing against child marriage. 

But all said and done, the sad reality remains that child marriages are still a brutal reality of our times. Yes, a very small change is happening. The 2024 report states that one in five girls are married before they turn 18; 25 years ago this ratio was one in four. And, prevalence of child marriage declined in India from 49.4% in 1993 to 22.3% in 2021. But these numbers are still small and there is a low way to go before any significant change can come about.

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