Report No. 205
Furthermore securing the girl economically and socially for the future has been put forth as a reason for early marriage.1
The institution of marriage in communities or societies can be used to serve or strengthen economic and social ties between different families and even communities. Also a young girl may be offered to a family in order to improve the financial and social standing of the girl's family.2
Other reasons that have been listed for the high prevalence of child marriages in India are lack of education and knowledge, shortcomings in the law, and the lack of will and action on part of the administration.1
As stated above, child marriage is a grave violation of the rights of the child depriving her of opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner to obtain education and to lead a life of freedom and dignity. It deprives the young girl of capabilities, opportunities and decision-making powers and stands in the way of her social and personal development.
Young brides face the risk of sexual and reproductive ill health because of their exposure to early sexual activity and pregnancy. The NFHS-2 had recorded that only 4% of married girls practiced gauna. It had further been recorded that the period between marriage and gauna had been reduced to about one year in most cases. The NFHS-3 figures show that the practice has been further restricted to 0.7% married girls. Complications and mortality are common during childbirth for young pregnant girls. Girls who come from poor backgrounds and who are often married at an early age have little or no access to health care services.
Risks associated with young pregnancy and childbearing include "an increased risk of premature labour, complications during delivery, low birth-weight, and a higher chance that the newborn will not survive."3 Young mothers under age 15 are five times more likely to die than women in their twenties due to complications including haemorrhage, sepsis, preeclampsia/ eclampsia and obstructed labour. 4 Maternal mortality amongst adolescent girls is estimated to be two to five times higher than adult women.5 Maternal mortality amongst girls aged 15-19 years is about three times higher.6
Young women also suffer from a high risk of maternal morbidity. It has been found that for "every woman who dies in childbirth, thirty more suffer injuries, infections and disabilities, which usually go untreated and some of which are lifelong".7 Research further indicates that the babies of mothers below the age of 18 tend to have higher rates of child morbidity and mortality. "Infants of mothers aged younger than 18 years have a 60 per cent greater chance of dying in the first year of life than those of mothers aged 19 years or older [UNICEF 2007]."8 Babies are born premature or underweight or young mothers simply lack parenting skills and decision-making powers.9
1. Chatterji, Jyotsna, Child Marriage, paper presented at India Social Forum, November 2006, New Delhi.
2. International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) Policy Advisory on Child Marriage, , visited on November 2007.
3. Black, Maggie, Early Marriage, Child Spouses, UNICEF, Innocenti Research Centre, Digest no.7 (2001), p.10.
4. Mensch, Barbara S., Judith Bruce and Margaret S. Greene, The Uncharted Passage: Girls' Adolescence in the Developing World, The Population Council (1998), New York.
5. Sethuraman, Kavita and Nata Duvvury, The Nexus of Gender Discrimination with Malnutrition: An Introduction, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol XLII No44 November 3-9, 2007, p.49.
6. Barua, A., Heman Apte, Pradeep Kumar, Care and Support of Unmarried Adolescent Girls in Rajasthan, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol XLII No44 November 3-9, 2007, p.54.
7. Black, Maggie, Early Marriage, Child Spouses, UNICEF, Innocenti Research Centre, Digest no.7 (2001), p.11.
8. Barua, A., Heman Apte, Pradeep Kumar, Care and Support of Unmarried Adolescent Girls in Rajasthan, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLII No. 44 November 3-9-2007, p. 26.
9. Otoo-Oyortey, Naana and Sonita Pobi, Early Marriage and Poverty: Exploring links for policy and programme development, The Forum on Marriage and the Rights of Women and Girls, London, 2003, p.19.
Secondly, young girls face the risk of infection with sexually transmitted diseases including HIV. Young brides who run away from early marriages may end up as sex workers or eventually resort to use sex work as a way of earning additional income.
Young brides also run the risk of catching diseases from their respective spouses, as older husbands often engage in sexual relations with other women outside the marriage. Young married girls do not have bargaining power in the marriage and therefore cannot negotiate safe sex and are deemed vulnerable.
It has also been found that young girls are physiologically more prone to contracting HIV/AIDS, as her vagina is not well lined with protective cells and her cervix may be more easily eroded. An analysis of the HIV epidemic shows that "the prevalence of HIV infection is highest in women aged 15-24 and peaks in men between five to ten years later."1
Women experience domestic violence from their spouses and their relatives for a variety of reasons. These reasons include dowry and the wife not behaving according to norms set by the husband and his family which are often patriarchal in nature. A study has shown that India has the highest rate of "domestic violence among women married by 18 with a rate of 67 per cent, compared to 45 per cent of women who had not experienced violence."2 Since an age gap between men and their wives generally exists and quite often men are much older, the power dynamics between them can be extremely unequal.
The girl becomes socially isolated and does not have any decision-making powers and consistently faces harassment from her husband and in-laws. NFHS-3 indicates that decision-making power is extremely limited for married women in general as only 52.5% of currently married women participate in household decisions. Furthermore because young brides enter the marriage at an early age, they do not develop personal and social skills that will enable them to fend for themselves. They become totally dependent on their spouses and are not likely to leave a violent marriage.
Women also undergo sexual violence in marriage and young girls are particularly vulnerable. In a study carried out in Calcutta in 1997 where half the women interviewed were married at or below the age of 15, with the youngest being married at 7 years old, findings revealed that this age group had "one of the highest rates of vulnerability to sexual violence in marriage, second only to those whose dowry had not been paid."3
The women interviewed said they had sexual intercourse before menstruation had started, that sex was early and very painful, and "many still continued to be forced into sexual activity by their husbands."4Additionally the young girls "had made their husbands aware of their unwillingness to have sex or of pain during sex, but in 80 per cent of these cases the rapes continued."
As husbands are often much older than their brides, girl brides are likely to be widowed at an early age. A child bride who is widowed can suffer discrimination including loss of status and they are often denied property rights, and other rights. Child widows have little or no education or other skills to be able to take care of themselves. At a 1994 Conference in Bangalore, India, participants told of being married at five and six years old, widowed a few years later, and rejected by their in-laws and their own families. These widows are, quite simply, left with no resources and nowhere to go.5
Young girls who are married early usually stop going to school. Giving an education to a girl is perceived by both the girl's and boy's families unnecessary for becoming a good wife or a mother, if not a deterrent. Those who have a choice are eventually forced to drop out of school because they are forced to assume the responsibility of doing domestic chores and starting a family etc.
Early marriage is often linked to low levels of schooling for girls. NFHS-3 figures show that 71.6% of Indian women currently aged 20-24 years, who had been married before the age of eighteen years, did not have any education at all. Furthermore, by not going to school, young brides are denied the opportunity to make friendships with peers or acquire critical life skills.
It has been said that "(e)ducated women are more likely to have a say in decision-making regarding the size of their families and the spacing of their children. They are also likely to be more informed and knowledgeable about contraception and the health care needs of their children."6 Since married girls leave their homes and often villages, towns, cities etc. they "tend to lose the close friendships they had formed in their parental homes, and often become quiet and subdued. This means that even where girls have developed social networks they are unable to access them."6
The loss of adolescence, the forced sexual relations, and the denial of freedom and personal development attendant on early marriage have profound psychosocial and emotional consequences. Researchers on child marriage in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh state that young married girls suffered more than boys due to the above mentioned consequences of child marriage.7
1. Barua, A., Heman Apte, Pradeep Kumar, Care and Support of Unmarried Adolescent Girls in Rajasthan, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLII No. 44 November 3-9-2007, p. 26.
2. U.N Children's Fund (UNICEF). Early Marriage: A Harmful Traditional Practice, UNICEF: Florence (2005), p.22.
3. Somerset, Corron, Early Marriage: Whose Right to Choose? Forum on Marriage and the Rights of Women and Children, London (2000), p. 21.
4. Otoo-Oyortey, Naana and Sonita Pobi, Early Marriage and Poverty: Exploring links for policy and programme development, The Forum on Marriage and the Rights of Women and Girls, London, 2003, p. 21.
5. Black, Maggie, Early Marriage, Child Spouses, UNICEF, Innocenti Research Centre, Digest no. 7 (2001), p. 9.
6. Otoo-Oyortey, Naana and Sonita Pobi, Early Marriage and Poverty: Exploring links for policy and programme development, The Forum on Marriage and and the Rights of Women and Girls, London, 2003, p. 13.
7. Black, Maggie, Early Marriage, Child Spouses, UNICEF, Innocenti Research Centre, Digest no. 7 (2001), p. 9.