Child marriages still rampant

A majority of parents who get their children married before the legal age do not even seek their consent, and among those who do, the child not consenting does not stop the marriage, new data has shown.

In 2011, the Planning Commission selected the G.B. Pant Institute of Studies in Rural Development, Lucknow, for a study on child marriage in India. The 2005-06 National Family Health Survey had shown that 46 per cent of young women were married before the legal age of 18, and the Planning Commission sought to understand why this was occurring. The Lucknow-based institute recently submitted its report to the government.

child marriage“The first thing that we were surprised to find is that child marriage remains rampant, especially in the northern States,” S.P. Pandey, director of the Institute, who led the study, told The Hindu over phone from Lucknow. Child marriage was prevalent among both Hindu and Muslim families, and across caste groups, he said.

Among the parents interviewed, “traditional practice” was the most common reason for child marriages, followed by growing demands for dowry later in life, and pressure from relatives. Over 1 in 10 said that concerns about their daughters’ safety was one reason to marry them off early. Nearly 80 per cent were unaware that their act was illegal.

Over 60 per cent of parents said that they had not sought the consent of their children before fixing the marriage. This was highest in Gujarat, Odisha and Rajasthan. In seven out of 10 cases, it was the father who had decided on the wedding, told the researchers. Among parents who did seek their children’s consent, nearly 60 per cent said that the children did not agree, but this rarely led to a change in the parents’ decision.

One thing that has changed was the age of the children getting married, Mr. Pandey said. “Earlier they used to be small children, seated in the parents’ lap in the marriage. Now they are adolescents or teenagers, but still under the age of 18.”

The study was carried out in 10 States reporting high rates of child marriage — Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Odisha — and two districts reporting the highest rates were then selected in each State. In all, the researchers surveyed 10,000 respondents.