An evil that won’t go away

An evil that won’t go away

Child Marriage

The continuing practice of child marriage in India is reason for concern. According to the 4th National Family Health Survey (NHFS), which was conducted in 2015-16, 26.8% of women in the 20-24 years age group were married off before they turned 18. In Karnataka, 23.2% of such women were minors when they got married. One out of every six marriages in the state is a child marriage. Although there has been a 21% decline in the national incidence of child marriages since 2005-06, there is little reason for satisfaction; 26.8% of women in the 20-24 years age group is not a small figure in real terms and that such a large number of women were children when they were married off is alarming. This figure masks the fact that a significant number were mere adolescents or even younger when they were married off. Social activists say that the official figures do not capture the true picture as child marriages are often not made public. Areas of poverty and social backwardness, like Karnataka’s northern districts, are particularly prone to child marriage.

Also read: Though outlawed, child marriage persists in Karnataka

Child marriage is not a minor matter. Children lack the physical and emotional maturity that is needed to build a successful marriage. Forcing children into a marriage deprives them of childhood, education and life chances. The transition from child-bride to child-mother happens quickly and many pregnant children don’t survive child-birth. Indeed, studies show that maternal mortality is 25 times higher for under-15 girls. Girls who manage to survive child-birth are faced with the task of raising their children, a daunting challenge for these young mothers. Gender equations in a marriage, which are already skewed in favour of the man, are more so when the wife is a mere child. The incidence of domestic violence is higher against child-brides. 

Despite strong laws to prevent child marriage, like the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, and the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Karnataka Amendment) Act, 2017, this social evil hasn’t gone away. Activists say that rules to implement these laws have not been framed and child marriage prohibition officers, who are mandated to prevent or nullify a child marriage, are not discharging their responsibilities. This is largely because officials themselves are not convinced that child marriage is indeed a serious problem. Public awareness on the true nature of child marriage is necessary and needs to be raised. Parents often get their daughters married early as they fear for the girl child’s safety and security. They must be made aware that child marriage is not a solution to this or any other problem. Rather, it is the cause of many problems in our society.