Child Marriages in India

SEP 27

Mains   > Social justice   >   Government Policies   >   Women and Child issues


  • Recently, Odisha’s Nayagarh district adopted a data-driven approach called Aliva to eradicate child marriage.


  • ALIVA registers, launched by Nayagarh administration in January 2022 to keep a track of each and every adolescent girl, has helped bring down the number of child marriages in the district.
  • These are 100-page registers that contain all details including age, address, family details, education status, Aadhaar card number, contact number of 48,642 adolescent girls in the district.
  • The registers are being maintained by all the 1,584 anganwadis in Nayagarh which has been in the limelight in the past for female foeticide and girl child marriages.
  • When anganwadi workers visit homes, they refer to the register and seek to know about the presence of the girl in her family. In case they do not meet the girl or parents/guardians are unable to explain her whereabouts, the anganwadi workers bring it to the notice of the district Collector.


  • Child marriage is one of the worst and deadliest forms of sexual and gender-based violence against girls.
  • Child marriage is both a symptom of and a contributor to gender inequality.
  • It is defined as a marriage of a girl or boy before the age of 18 and refers to both formal marriages and informal unions in which children under the age of 18 live with a partner as if married.
  • Prevention of Child Marriage is a part of SDG 5 which deals with gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls.


  • United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates suggest that:
    • Each year, at least 1.5 million girls under 18 get married in India, which makes it home to the largest number of child brides in the world - accounting for a third of the global total.
  • As per a report by Save The Children:
    • More than an estimated 22,000 girls a year are dying from pregnancy and childbirth resulting from child marriage.
    • Child marriage kills more than 60 girls a day, globally and 6 girls a day in South Asia.
  • Though, there has been a decline in the incidence of child marriage in India (from 54% in 1992-93 to 27% in 2016) and in nearly all states, the pace of change remains slow, especially for girls in the age group 15-18 years.
  • In India, Child marriage is more prevalent in rural areas than in urban areas.
  • In general, rates of child marriage are highest in the central and western parts of India and lower in the eastern and southern parts of the country.
  • West and Central Africa has the highest rate of child marriage in the world and accounts for nearly half of all child marriage-related deaths globally


  • Patriarchal notions:
    • The ardent desire to preserve the purity of a girl for upholding the honour of the family is the key factor contributed to early marriage.
    • Virginity and chastity are the precious possession of a girl. The undue importance given to chastity paved the way for society’s finding out various ways and measures such as seclusion of girls from interaction with others and early marriage to protect girls from possible sexual abuses.
  • Regressive customary and religious laws:
    • Governments are often either unable to enforce existing laws, or rectify discrepancies between national laws on marriage age and entrenched customary and religious laws.
    • This is because of official tolerance of cultural, societal and customary norms that shape and govern the institution of marriage and family life.
    • In many villages in India, where the practice of child marriage is prevailing, girls are married off before they attain puberty because of social stigma the community attaches to marriage after puberty.
  • Rising cost of marriage:
    • The rising costs of marriage ceremonies and related dowry costs force many families to marry their daughters early in order to reduce such costs
  • Poverty:
    • Poor families find it difficult to feed everyone in the family that they prefer to "send off" the daughter as early as possible to some other family.
    • As for the boy's family, it gets an "unpaid servant" to do the household chores, often along with dowry.
    • According to UNICEF >> poor families may regard a young girl as an economic burden and her marriage as a necessary survival strategy for her family.
  • Insecurity:
    • UNICEF is of the opinion that one reason why parents get their daughters married off early is >> they may think that early marriage offers protection from the dangers of sexual assault or more generally, offers the care of a male guardian.
    • Early marriage may also be seen as a strategy to avoid girls becoming pregnant outside marriage.
  • Caste inequalities:
    • The oppressed classes and castes, with the encouragement of the landed castes, emulate this feudal social practice as it ensures for them a source of cheap family labour.
    • Hence it is in the interest of the dominant classes to keep this system going.
  • Lack of education:
    • Poor educational opportunities for girls, especially in rural areas increase the vulnerability of a girl child to be married off early.
    • Lack of education also reduces girls’ power to resist marriage and opt for alternative aspirations.
  • Loophole in the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act:
    • It does not declare child marriages illegal, but leaves an option that the girl can keep it alive and the marriage can be ‘revived’ after the girl turns 18.
    • Since there is a window of the girl’s consent, in many cases police don’t take action against those responsible for marrying off children
  • Fake age certificates:
    • Often people obtain fake birth certificates through manipulation.
    • Panchayats also sometimes play a dubious role of issuing panchnamas with fake date of birth, based on which marriages of minors take place.
  • Covid-19 pandemic aggravated the menace:
    • COVID-19 pandemic has worsened inequalities that drive child marriage.
    • Recent study by The Lancet shows that up to 2.5 million more girls (below the age of 18) around the world are at risk of marriage in the next 5 years because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
    • According to a report published in December 2020 by ChildLine India, the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown have proved to be new drivers of child marriages in rural Madhya Pradesh.


  • Health consequences:
    • Studies demonstrate the clear linkages between the incidence of child marriage and poor health indicators, often due to early child bearing that contributes to high levels of maternal mortality and morbidity.
    • Mortality rates of children born to very young mothers are high. The children that survive are likely to develop health problems
    • Child marriage also exposes the young girls to risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
    • Violence and abuse at marital home can lead to post-traumatic stress and depression >> hence affects mental health.
  • Limit economic opportunities of women:
    • Child marriage is also directly associated with lower educational attainment for girls, limiting their employment opportunities, economic security and productive capacity to society.
    • Child of young uneducated mothers is also less likely to attain high levels of education, perpetuating cycles of low literacy and limited employment opportunities
  • Higher risk of domestic violence:
    • Girls who are married young often lack status and power within their marriages and households, and so are more likely to experience domestic violence, sexual abuse, and isolation from family and community.
  • Increased population growth:
    • Lower age at marriage directly affects fertility rates. Lower the rate of age at marriage higher is the fertility rate.
  • Violation of Rights of Children:
    • Child marriage violates the rights of children such as the right to education, the right to be protected from physical and mental violence, the right to rest and leisure, the right to not be separated from parents against the child’s will etc.


  • According to a UNICEF Report, 2018, the proportion of women who were married as children decreased by 15% globally in the last decade, with south Asia witnessing the largest decline (from nearly 50% to 30%) owing largely to progress in India.
  • Nearly 80 million child marriages globally have been prevented in the last 25 years.


  • Steps taken during colonial period
    • The Indian Penal Code enacted in 1860 criminalised sexual intercourse with a girl below the age of 10.
    • The provision of rape was amended in 1927 through the Age of Consent Bill, 1927, which declared that marriage with a girl under 12 would be invalid.
    • In 1929, the Child Marriage Restraint Act set 16 and 18 years as the minimum age of marriage for girls and boys respectively.
    • This law, popularly known as the Sarda Act after its sponsor Harbilas Sarda, a judge and a member of Arya Samaj.
  • Child Marriage Restrain (Amendment) Act of 1978
    • Sharda Act was amended in 1978 to prescribe 18 and 21 years as the age of marriage for a woman and a man respectively. However, the marriage performed in violation of this condition still remained valid.
  • The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006
    • Under this Act, “child” means a person who, if a male, has not completed twenty-one years of age, and if a female, has not completed eighteen years of age.
    • Boys and girls forced into child marriages as minors have the option of voiding their marriage up to two years after reaching adulthood, and in certain circumstances, marriages of minors can be null and void before they reach adulthood.
    • Children born of child marriages are consider to be legitimate. Responsibility laid on the District Courts to decide upon the parental custody of the child, keeping in mind children’s best interests.
  • Compulsory Registration of Marriages Act, 2006:
    • From the year 2006, all marriages need to be registered in India under the Compulsory Registration of Marriages Act, 2006.
    • It states that every Indian citizen needs to register his or her marriage within ten days of their marriage, irrespective of religion.
    • Such compulsory registration would be of critical importance to prevent child marriages in the country.
  • A committee to reconsider the minimum age of marriage for women:
    • In 2020, the Union Ministry for Women and Child Development set up a committee to examine matters pertaining to age of motherhood, imperatives of lowering Maternal Mortality Ratio and the improvement of nutritional levels among women. The Committee is headed by Jaya Jaitely.
    • The Committee was proposed in the Union Budget 2020-21.
    • The Committee recommended that the minimum age of marriage for girls could be raised to 21 and can be implemented in a phased manner.
  • Right to Education Act, 2009:
    • The RTE Act aims to provide primary education to all children aged 6 to 14 years. It enforces Education as a Fundamental Right (Article 21).
    • The Act aims for creation of favourable atmosphere of education for all children >> hence prevent issues like child marriage.
  • International Collaborations:
    • Regional Campaign to end child marriage:
      • India is a member of the South Asian Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC), which adopted a regional action plan (2015-2018) to end child marriage.
    • India is one of 12 countries selected to be part of UNFPA and UNICEF’s Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage.
  • Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act:
    • Under this Act sexual intercourse with a minor is rape, and the ‘consent’ of a minor is regarded as invalid since he/she is deemed incapable of giving consent at that age.


  • Improve law enforcement mechanism in India:
    • Monitoring of the implementation of existing child marriage laws needs to be strengthened and a protective mechanism should be established for individuals reporting child marriages.
    • The effective enforcement of Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 must be ensured with strong political and administrative will power.
  • Launch a nationwide campaign for prevention of child marriage:
    • There is a need for awareness and sensitization programmes including media campaigns for creating an environment of delaying marriage and empowering adolescent girls
  • Compulsory registration of marriage
    • The compulsory registration of marriage is imperative as there is no law requiring registration of marriages throughout India.
    • Thus, enforcement of such legal provision is likely to pressurize parents for delaying marriage.
  • Increasing girl’s access to education and employment:
    • Increasing girl’s access to and motivation for schooling and attaining higher education is a key intervention strategy for delaying age at marriage.
  • Create awareness and sensitization of government enforcement agencies:
    • Orientation and training programmes need to be organized for sensitizing the officials of government enforcement agencies.
    • The elected representatives and community-based workers including development activists also need orientation and training regarding the legal provisions and policy related information for promoting delayed marriage.
  • Collective action through women SHGs
    • The women SHGs and associations need to be encouraged to take collective action for delaying marriage and also preventing child marriage.
    • The SHGs and women associations may play an important role in motivating the girls and their families concerning the continuation of schooling.
  • Special focus on district with high prevalence of child marriage:
    • In those districts where the high rate of child marriage is prevailing, setting up special Cells is required.
    • These special Cells may conduct the study regarding the prevalence of child marriage, loop holes in implementation of legislation and laws, administrative challenges for effective implementation of Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, and implement intervention strategies in collaboration with civil societies and government agencies.
  • Special focus on addressing mass child marriages during certain festivals:
    • There should be special watch on the pious occasions such as Akha Teej, Ganesh Chaturthi, etc. during which large number of child marriages are being performed.
  • Ensuring safety and security of girls:
    • The vulnerable and poor families are the potential victims of trafficking and therefore, effective implementation of Immoral Traffic Prevention Act along with effective implementation of UJJAWALA scheme is called for prevention from immoral trafficking and rehabilitation of trafficked victims.
  • Adolescent girls need specific policies
    • Effective and efficient administration of Conditional Cash Transfer Schemes and other schemes oriented for empowerment of adolescent girls should be ensured while the coverage of such schemes is to be extended.
    • There is need to focus on adolescent girls living in difficult circumstances.  Effective enforcement of Juvenile Justice Act and rehabilitation of such girls is required.
    • There is a need to address the issue of sexuality within adolescents and sensitize them about the human rights of women and children.


Q. ‘Child marriage is both a symptom of and a contributor to gender inequality’. Comment