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Challenging Tradition: Child Marriage in India

Written By: Audacia Ray
March 11, 2009

 

The Lancet, a long-running medical journal, has published an interesting study this week about child marriage in India (link leads to summary, free registration required to read the full article online).

Here’s a quick run-down of their findings:

  • 44·5% of women aged 20—24 years were married before age 18 years, 22·6% were married before age 16 years, and 2·6% were married before age 13 years.
  • Child marriage was significantly associated with no contraceptive use before first childbirth, high fertility, a repeat childbirth in less than 24 months, multiple unwanted pregnancies, pregnancy termination, and female sterilisation.
  • The association between child marriage and high fertility, a repeat childbirth in less than 24 months, multiple unwanted pregnancies, pregnancy termination, and sterilisation all remained significant after controlling for duration of marriage.
  • In a comment on the article, Vinita Salvi responds:

    The researchers found that the prevalence of child marriage is highest in poor uneducated girls from rural India. Traditionally, many Indians believe that it is a matter of both duty and prestige to ensure the daughter’s marriage as soon as she reaches puberty. As [the lead researcher] Raj reports, this custom of early marriage is particularly prevalent in central and east India, which also accounts for some of the most populous states, often associated with a high population density.

    ….Although the legal age for marriage in India is 18 years for women and 21 years for men, and does not provide a lower age for marriage with parental consent, as do other countries (16 in the UK and 13—18 in different states of the USA), the reality is that this legislation exists largely on paper. An earlier National Family Health Survey documented a low level of awareness among women about the legally permissible age for marriage.

    The core question here is: how do you challenge such an embedded tradition as early marriage? Clearly, legislating against early marriage is only a small piece of the puzzle. Even if there was more awareness among young women that they are being wed beneath the legal age of marriage, the capacity for resistance is difficult to build up.

    One of our partners, Sunita Rathore, has a piece of this answer: education for girls.

    You can download a PDF of the full article here.

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