Progress in ending child marriage stagnating in India; 1 in 5 girls, 1 in 6 boys are married: Study | India News

NEW DELHI: One in five girls and about one in six boys in India are married, with the progress

Progress in ending child marriage stagnating in India; 1 in 5 girls, 1 in 6 boys are married: Study | India News

NEW DELHI: One in five girls and about one in six boys in India are married, with the progress made towards eliminating the practice of child marriage entirely stagnating in recent years, according to a study published in ‘The Lancet Global Health’ journal.
Between 2016 and 2021, the practice of child marriage also became more common in some states and Union territories, researchers said in their study.
Girl child marriages increased in six states, including Manipur, Punjab, Tripura, and West Bengal, while eight states, including Chhattisgarh, Goa, Manipur, and Punjab, witnessed a rise in boy child marriages, the researchers found after analysing data from all five waves of India’s National Family Health Survey from 1993 to 2021.
The research team, comprising researchers from Harvard University and those affiliated with the Indian government, however, said that child marriage had declined nationally. Prevalence of girl child marriage decreased from 49 per cent in 1993 to 22 per cent in 2021, while that of boy child marriage came down from 7 per cent in 2006 to 2 per cent in 2021, they found.
Nevertheless, progress towards stopping the practice of child marriage altogether has stalled in recent years between 2016 and 2021, the researchers said. Child marriage numbers reduced the most between 2006 and 2016.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) sees child marriage as a “violation of human rights”, as it “compromises the development of girls and boys”.
Child marriage is often the result of entrenched gender inequality, making girls disproportionately affected by the practice, according to the UN agency.
Ending child marriage is therefore seen to be critical towards achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5, which is to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” by 2030.
Specifically, SDG target 5.3 seeks to “eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation”.
According to the UN, one in five young women worldwide (19 per cent) were married in childhood in 2022.
While globally, the practice of child marriage has come down, the “profound effects of COVID-19 are threatening this progress, with up to 10 million additional girls at risk of child marriage over the course of a decade from the onset of the pandemic,” the organisation says.
In the study, the researchers considered men and women aged 20-24 who were married before turning 18 in their analysis even though India legally considers marriage of boys before age 21 to be child marriage.
The team included more than 13.4 million women and more than 1.4 million men in their analysis.
The researchers noted that increased global attention to doing away with child marriage has led many countries to pass legislations to ban the practice.
In India, they said, policy response to prevent child marriage in India has involved legal prohibition intended to directly prevent child marriage, referring to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act passed in 2006. The Act set the legal age of marriage for men to 21 years and women to 18 years.
The researchers added that other policies and schemes were implemented to address the underlying drivers of the practice with such programmes focusing on expanding social protections, increasing girls’ education, and reducing economic vulnerability.
They said that state-level governments have been crucial partners to strengthen efforts to end child marriage. Citing the example of Uttar Pradesh, they said the state has “achieved dramatic decreases in prevalence and headcount for child marriage in girls”.
Other states, such as West Bengal, have struggled, they said.
The researchers said that evidence gaps on the effective elimination of child marriage globally remain, with interventions such as cash transfers showing poor success in certain geographies, such as India.
They described the observed state-level and Union territory-level stagnation in doing away with child marriage in India as a “big concern” and that “re-igniting” progress in this direction was necessary to achieve the SDG target 5.3.

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