Despite a stringent anti-child marriage law, child marriages are increasing in India. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, 280 child marriages were reported nation-wide in 2014, up from 222 the previous year. The five South Indian states accounted for almost half the 280 cases of child marriage reported last year, with Tamil Nadu and Karnataka leading the pack with 47 and 44 cases respectively. This is surprising given the fact that the two states have high levels of literacy. Clearly, child marriage is related more to insecurity and poverty rather than education and literacy. It is evident that the figures provided by the NCRB do not capture the full reality on the ground. The data refers to cases registered with the police while most cases of child marriage go unnoticed and unreported. A core committee on prevention of child marriage in Karnataka reported some years ago that 45 to 68 per cent of married people in the state tied the knot before they turned 18.
Declaring a child marriage illegal is not the best way to tackle the problem as it is children who suffer when the marriage is annulled. Few will marry a girl whose marriage as a child was annulled. Therefore, our focus should be on prevention of child marriage by creating awareness. It is well known that politicians and officials often preside over child mass marriages. They must be punished with jail terms for encouraging this social evil.
Child marriage is a menace because children lack the maturity to deal with the challenges that a marital relationship entails. Besides emotional maturity, there is the problem of physical maturity too. The body of a child is not strong enough to take on the rigours of pregnancy and motherhood. Girls who are under 15 years of age at the time of pregnancy are five times as likely to die at childbirth as women in their 20s. The offspring of child-mothers are prone to suffer from birth deformities. These are facts that need to be highlighted to make parents realise that getting their daughters married early is a bad idea. Economic insecurity and fears for the physical safety of their daughters drives parents to get them married when they are still children. But this option pushes girls into greater insecurity, even jeopardising their very survival.