By Dr. Ranjana Kumari
Recently, I came across an analysis by IndiaSpend of the recently released 2011 census data, and was appalled to see some of the hard hitting facts laid bare. The report stated that nearly 12 million Indian children were married before the age of 10 years–84% of them Hindu and 11% Muslim. many of 7.84 million (65%) married children were female, reinforcing the fact that girls are significantly more disadvantaged; eight in 10 illiterate children who were married were also girls. The data further reveals that 72% of all Hindu girls married before 10 were in rural areas, as compared to 58.5% Muslim girls, with higher levels of education correlating with later marriage. Women from urban areas, on average, marry more than two yars later than their rural counterparts.
The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act states that a girl in India cannot marry before age 18, a boy before 21. A Muslim girl can marry when she attains puberty or completes 15 years of age, according to Muslim Personal Law, the Gujarat High Court and Delhi High Court noted in different judgments. As many as 102 million girls (30% of female population) were married before 18 in 2011; the number was 119 million in 2001 (44% of female population), a decrease of 14 percentage points over the decade. The number was 120 million in 2001 (49% of male population), a decrease of 7 percentage points over the decade.
The correlation between education and child marriage was also significant. It was observed that as many as 1,403 females have never attended any educational institution for every 1,000 males who have not. The report also noted that the level of teenage pregnancy and motherhood is nine times higher among women with no education than among women with 12 or more years of education. 80% of illiterate children married before 10 are girls.
These chilling facts yet again reiterates the importance of education, particularly of the girl child. Child marriage is a social evil, and brings with it numerous psychological and physical repercussions for the children involved. The #BetiBachaoBetiPadhao campaign of the Government of India, of which Centre for Social Research is also a nodal agency, is aimed at removing this evil at the roots, by encouraging families to educate their girl children, and celebrate their birth. This issue needs to be dealt with great urgency on the part of government, civil society organizations and general public, to be eradicated completely. Let us work towards preserving our children’s innocence.