Smaranika Mishra Bhubaneswar India
CHILD MARRIAGE REMAINS A SERIOUS PROBLEM IN INDIAN RURAL AREAS
Currently, 27% of girls in India are married before their 18th birthday.
According to UNCIEF, India has the highest absolute number of child brides in the world – 15,509,000.
BY SMARANIKA MISHRA
Manisha, not her real name, was married off at the age of 14. Now at 20, she is the mother of two children; a boy and a girl.
"My parents were afraid that I would commit adultery, so marriage was seen as a way to avoid that. I would never let my little daughter marry at such a young age; it would pain me. I want her to study and educate herself, “Manisha told me during a recent visit to North Odisha.
When we think of the bad practices of our Indian culture, child marriage is always mentioned as one of them. Indeed, child marriage is a bad practice as it caused the death of numerous minor girls and their babies during child birth. Even then the custom of child marriage was quite prevalent in India, why? Without thinking much as lot of people put the blame on the foolishness of our ancestors. Child marriage in India has been practiced for centuries, with children married off before their physical and mental maturity. The problem of child marriage in India remains rooted in a complex matrix of religious traditions, social practices, economic factors and deeply rooted prejudices. Regardless of its roots, child marriage constitutes a gross violation of human rights, leaving physical, psychological and emotional scars for life. Sexual activity starts soon after marriage, and pregnancy and childbirth at an early age can lead to maternal as well as infant mortality. Moreover, women who marry younger are more likely to experience domestic violence within the home.
In Her Own Words: A Powerful Story From Former Child Bride
Manisha’s parents would spend every day on the river, hoping to catch enough fish to sell so that they could afford to send their children to school and buy food for them.
If they didn’t have a lucky day, however, Manisha and her younger brothers and sisters would go to sleep hungry.
When her father died, life got even harder for the family. It was up to Manisha’s mother to provide for herself and her 7 young children.
“I was supposed to be in school at the time I got married,” Manisha, now 20, told me. “I was 14 years old when I got married to a 35 year old man. They said that the man would take care of me, my siblings, and my mother, due to the poverty levels.”
“I cried because I was too young to get married,” she continued. “I didn’t want to, I didn’t understand the meaning of marriage, I was filled with fear."
But Manisha knew that her mother couldn’t afford to feed her, buy clothes for her, or pay her school fees, and she felt that if she refused to get married, she wouldn’t have anywhere else to go.
In her new role as a wife, Manisha stopped going to school, and instead took care of her husband, and searched for small jobs she could do to earn some money. She and her husband struggled to earn enough to eat. But the greatest loss, for Manisha, was her freedom.
“When I was staying with mum I was free to do what I wanted to do,” she continued. “Now in the house I was taken to, I wasn’t free. I was scared because he refused for me to do anything, and only he decided what should be done.”
As a child bride, Manisha also endured the terror and pain of an unwanted physical relationship. After six months, she discovered she was pregnant.
“When I was pregnant I felt so much pain because I wasn’t ready to conceive at that age,” she said. “I had no knowledge of how to deliver a baby.”
When she was still pregnant, Manisha’s husband died. After the funeral, his brother and successor to his land and property, married Manisha. In her second marriage, she was often subjected to domestic violence, and she lost her baby. Under threat and oppressed, she felt unable to even seek help following her miscarriage.
Years passed, until Manisha eventually became pregnant again. She was still pregnant when her second husband also died and Manisha, still only a child herself, was left alone to give birth.
“If my child could get an education, her life would be different from mine,” she said. “When children are kept in school, they get educated and they reap the benefits. I would like to tell others that when you get married at an early age, things are difficult and you lose all your rights and you suffer a lot.”
The Present Situation
More than 40 per cent of the world’s child marriages take place in India, even though the legal age for wedding is 18, reported UNICEF. Child marriage is of course banned in India and the Indian government has taken a strong step to tighten laws against child marriage, but unfortunately this custom continues to exist in spite of legal interdictions. According to the new bill, Prohibition of Child Marriage Bill 2006, the priests, police or local leaders will be jailed and fined if they will be found indulged in this illegal practice, declared Renuka Chowdhury, former minister for women and children. This bill grants protection to many children forced into marriage every year in the rural parts of the country. They are forced to consent with their parent’s decision or choice. Very often, they are even too young to understand the significance of marriage and do not understand the gravity of the event. Young girls are threatened, bullied, blackmailed and emotionally exploited.
The Serious Consequences of Child Marriage
Indian society is actually very complex, infested with same age-old beliefs, cultural and social interdictions, outdated rites and customs. In a country where ignorance and poverty are dominating factors, early marriage is often perceived as the only option for girls and is often seen by parents of young girls as a means of securing both their own and their daughter’s future. The causes and consequences of child marriage are intrinsically linked, including girl’s lack of autonomy and low levels of education, poor health status, poverty and overall low socioeconomic status.
The recent government study shows that more than 65 per cent of girls are getting married before 18 in India. Naturally, child marriage causes high rates of maternal mortality and one woman dies every seven minutes in India because of a pregnancy-related cause.
Minor girls are abruptly exposed to sex and they’re abused and exploited sexually because when a child bride is married she is likely to be forced into sexual activity with her husband, and at an age where the bride is not physically and sexually mature it causes severe health consequences. Girls aged 10-14 are five times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than women aged 20–24. It is a huge responsibility for a young girl to become a wife and mother and because girls are not adequately prepared to face these roles which demand a lot of maturity and a big sense of responsibility. Naturally, this heavy burden has a serious impact on their psychological welfare, their perceptions of themselves and also their marital relationship. Women who marry early are more likely to suffer inevitable psychological as well as physical consequences. Studies indicate that women who marry at young ages are more likely to believe that it is sometimes acceptable for a husband to beat his wife, and are, therefore, more likely to experience domestic violence themselves. Abuse is sometimes perpetrated by the husband’s family as well as the husband himself, and girls who enter families as a bride often become domestic slaves for the in-laws and live under a constant threat and pressure.
Early marriage has also been linked to wife abandonment and increased levels of divorce or separation. Child brides also face the risk of being widowed by their husbands who are often much older to them or they have an unexpected death. In these instances the young bride is likely to suffer additional discrimination as in Indian culture the young widows are held responsible for the death of their husband and suffer a loss of status and may be ostracised by society and denied property rights.
Laws on Child Marriage
Center for Reproductive Rights, Child Marriage and Personal Laws in South Asia, 2014, (accessed February 2018)
Dasra, Marry me later: preventing child marriage and early pregnancy in India, 2014, (accessed June 2018)
International Center for Research on Women, District Level Study on Child Marriage in India, 2015, (accessed February 2018)
Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, National Family Health Survey 2015-2016, 2017,
(accessed June 2018)
Nirantar Trust, Early and Child Marriage in India, a Landscape Analysis, 2015,
(accessed June 2018)
South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children, [website], 2018, (accessed February 2018)
UNICEF-UNFPA, Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage, 2017, (accessed February 2018)
UNICEF India, Child Marriage, [website], 2018, (accessed February 2018)
UN CEDAW, Concluding Observations on the Combined Fourth and Fifth Periodic Reports of India, 2014, p.9, (accessed February 2018)
UN General Assembly, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: India, 2017, p.22, (accessed February 2018)
World Bank and International Center for Research on Women, Economic Impacts of Child Marriage: Global Synthesis Report, 2017, (accessed February 2018)
WHAT IS THE MINIMUM LEGAL FRAMEWORK AROUND MARRIAGE?
According to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 the minimum legal age of marriage in India is 18 years with no exceptions.
There have been a number of recent court cases where petitioners have argued that the provisions of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 do not apply to Muslims as marriages between Muslims are governed by Muslim Personal Law under the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937. This interpretation of the application of marriage laws has been consistently rejected by the Indian judiciary.
HOW CAN WE END CHILD MARRIAGE?
1) Empower girls with information, skills and support networks.
2) Provide economic support and incentives to girls and their families.
3) Educate and rally parents and community members.
4) Enhance girls’ access to a high-quality education.
5) Encourage supportive laws and policies.