Report No. 205
In 2006 they Hindustan Times reported that 57% of girls in India are married off before they are 18 as per the International Centre of Research on Women.8.
The phenomenon of child marriage can be attributed to a variety of reasons. The chief amongst these reasons is poverty and culture, tradition and values based on patriarchal norms. These norms do not take into account that "(i)n actuality, child marriage is a violation of human rights, compromising the development of girls and often resulting in early pregnancy and social isolation, with little education and poor vocational training reinforcing the gendered nature of poverty.
Young married girls are a unique, though often invisible, group. Required to perform heavy amounts of domestic work, under pressure to demonstrate fertility, and responsible for raising children while still children themselves, married girls and child mothers face constrained decisionmaking and reduced life choices. Boys are also affected by child marriage but the issue impacts girls in far larger numbers and with more intensity... Where a girl lives with a man and takes on the role of caregiver for him, the assumption is often that she has become an adult woman, even if she has not yet reached the age of 18."9
1. The Demographic and Heath Survey (DHS) figures retrieved form UNICEF based website, (www. childinfo.org/areas/childmarriage/>, visited on November 2007.
2. UN Population Division (2000). World Marriage Patterns, Department of Econocic and Social Affairs, Washington, , visited on November 2007.
3. National Family Healthy Survey of 2005-2006 (NFHS-3), (The NFHS-3 facts and figures mentioned hereafter have all been retrieved form this website), visited on October 2007.
4. 2001 Census of India, . visited on November 2007.
5. UNICEF website on Married Adolescents. Cited in UNFPA. 2004. Child Marriage Advocacy Programme: Fact Sheet on Child Marriage and Early Union.
6. UNICEF website on Married Adolescents. Cited in UNFPA. 2004 Child Marriage Advocacy Programme: Fact Sheet on Child Marriage and Early Union.
6. National Family Heath Survey fo 1998-99 (NFHS-2), . visited on November 2007.
7.Census-2001 Registrar-General of India (RGI) figure s taken from K.G. Santhya and Shireen J. Jejeebhoy paper: Young People's sexual and reproductive Health in India: Policies, programmes and realities, Population Council regional working papers No. 19, New Delhi, 2007.
8. The Hindustan Times daily on 29-8-2006.
9. Taken from UNICEF based website, , visited on November 2007.
The marriage of a minor girl often takes place because of the poverty and indebtedness of her family. Dowry becomes an additional reason, which weighs even more heavily on poorer families. The general demand for younger brides also creates an incentive for these families to marry the girl child as early as possible to avoid high dowry payments for older girls.
The girl in our patriarchal set up is believed to be parki thepan (somebody's property) and a burden. These beliefs lead parents to marry the girl child. In doing so, they are of course relieving themselves of the 'burden' of looking after the child. The girls are considered to be a liability as they are not seen as individuals who can contribute productively to the family.
Unfortunately, the patriarchal mindset is so strong that the girl has no say in decision making. Texts like Manu Smirti which state that the father or the brother, who has not married his daughter or the sister who has attained puberty will go to hell are sometimes quoted to justify child marriage. Child marriages are also an easy way out for parents who want their daughters to obey and accept their choice of a husband for them.
There is also a belief that child marriage is a protection for the girls against unwanted masculine attention or promiscuity. In a society which puts a high premium on the patriarchal values of virginity and chastity of girls, girls are married off as soon as possible.