Child Marriages in India

2023 DEC 22

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

Syllabus: GS 2 > Social justice   >   Government Policies   >   Women and Child issues


  • One in five girls and nearly one in six boys are still married below the legal age of marriage in India, according to a new study published in the Lancet Global Health.


  • The study highlights the need for stronger policies to eliminate child marriage by 2030.The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 5.3 aims to end child marriage in girls by 2030 as part of a global commitment to “eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation”.
  • As per the report, for girls, the annual rate of reduction in the prevalence of child marriage must increase from 1.9 percent to 23 percent globally to meet the SDG target.
  • The all-India prevalence of child marriage in girls declined from 49.4 per cent in 1993 to 22.3 per cent in 2021 while that among the boys declined from 7.1 per cent in 2006 to 2.2 per cent in 2021. 
  • All states, except Manipur, experienced a decline in the prevalence of girl child marriage between 1993 and 2021.


  • 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.


  • 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.
  • 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.


  • Patriarchal notions:
    • The key factor driving early marriage is the strong desire to preserve a girl's purity for family honour. Emphasizing virginity and chastity as a girl's valuable attributes leads to societal measures like seclusion and early marriage to protect against potential sexual abuse.
  • Regressive customary and religious laws:
    • Governments struggle to enforce marriage age laws due to the influence of entrenched customary and religious norms.
    • Official tolerance for these cultural practices often leads to discrepancies between national laws and local customs. In many Indian villages, the practice of child marriage persists, with girls married off before puberty to avoid the social stigma associated with marrying 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:
    • Poverty leads families to marry off daughters early to reduce financial strain. Poor families often view daughters as economic burdens, and marrying them off is seen as a survival strategy. 
    • This also benefits the boy's family, who may gain unpaid household help and possibly a dowry, as noted by UNICEF.
  • Insecurity:
    • UNICEF suggests that parents may marry off daughters early to protect them from sexual assault and to ensure care under a male guardian. This practice is also seen as a way to prevent pregnancies outside of 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:
    • The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified social and economic disparities, contributing to a rise in child marriage risks. A study by The Lancet estimates an additional 2.5 million girls worldwide are at increased risk of child marriage due to pandemic effects. Additionally, reports from ChildLine India indicate a surge in child marriages in rural areas of Madhya Pradesh during the pandemic.


  • Health Consequences: 
    • Child marriage is linked to poor health, high maternal and infant mortality, increased risk of HIV and STDs, and mental health issues due to violence and abuse.
  • Economic Limitations: 
    • Leads to lower educational attainment in girls, reducing their employment opportunities and contributing to cycles of low literacy.
  • Domestic Violence Risk: 
    • Young brides often face domestic violence, sexual abuse, and isolation.
  • Population Growth: 
    • Early marriage increases fertility rates.
  • Children's Rights Violation: 
    • Child marriage infringes on children's rights, including education and protection from violence.


  • Steps taken during colonial period
    • Indian Penal Code, 1860: Criminalized sexual relations with girls below 10 years of age.
    • Age of Consent Bill, 1927: Raised the legal age to 12 and invalidated marriages with girls under 12.
    • Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 (Sarda Act): Set minimum marriage ages at 16 for girls and 18 for boys. The act was named after its sponsor, Harbilas Sarda. He was a judge and a member of the 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 the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, a "child" is defined as a male under 21 and a female under 18. 
    • The Act permits minors in child marriages to annul their marriage within two years of reaching adulthood. Marriages involving minors can also be declared null before adulthood in certain cases. 
    • Children born from child marriages are considered legitimate, and decisions regarding their custody are made by District Courts with the child's best interests in mind.
  • 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.


  • Right to Education Act, 2009: Ensures primary education for children aged 6-14, reinforcing education as a fundamental right and helping prevent child marriage.
  • International Collaborations: India participates in regional efforts like the South Asian Initiative to End Violence Against Children and is part of the UNFPA and UNICEF's Global Programme to end child marriage.
  • Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act: Classifies sexual intercourse with minors as rape, invalidating the 'consent' of minors.
  • The Prohibition of Child Marriage Amendment Bill, 2021, aims to increase the minimum marriage age for women to 21 years, equal to that of men. 
  • Recently, the government said that this change will take effect two years after the bill's parliamentary approval. This period is intended to prepare citizens for the reform. 
  • The Bill, currently with the Parliamentary Standing Committee, will amend several acts, including the Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872; the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936; the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937; and others as informed by the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
  • In June 2020, the Ministry for Women and Child Development formed a task force led by Jaya Jaitly. This group studied the relationship between the marriage age and various women's health and social issues. They recommended raising the marriage age to 21 years.


  • Gender Neutrality: Equalizes marriage age to 21 for both genders, breaking patriarchal stereotypes.
  • Women Empowerment: Aligns with international conventions against discrimination of women.
  • Reduce Child Marriages: Targets India's issue of 1.5 million girls marrying under 18 annually (UNICEF) and minimal decline in child marriages from 27% to 23% (2015-20, NFHS 5).
  • Improved Health Outcomes: Addresses issues related to early marriages and pregnancies affecting maternal and infant health.
  • Better Human Resource Development: Aims to improve girls' education and employment opportunities.
  • Reduce Domestic Violence: Young brides often face more abuse; higher marriage age could reduce this.
  • Control Population Growth: Higher marriage age can impact fertility rates.


  • Government Abdication: Seen as avoiding broader issues like poverty and dowry.
  • Women's Infantilization: May contradict legal autonomy granted to adult women.
  • Ineffective Law Enforcement: Current child marriage laws (PCMA) are not fully effective.
  • Discrimination Against Vulnerable Communities: Could disproportionately affect SCs and STs.
  • Aggravates Misuse of Legislation: May increase misuse in cases of marriages against parental wishes.


  • Enhance Law Enforcement: Enhance monitoring of child marriage laws, like the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 and establish protective measures for reporters.
  • Nationwide Campaign: Launch awareness programs to delay marriage and empower adolescent girls.
  • Mandatory Marriage Registration: Implement compulsory marriage registration to discourage early marriages.
  • Education and Employment for Girls: Increase access to schooling and higher education as a strategy to delay marriage.
  • Sensitization of Enforcement Agencies: Train officials and community workers on legal provisions and policies to promote delayed marriage.
  • Collective Action via Women's Groups: Encourage women's self-help groups to take collective action against child marriage.
  • Focus on High Prevalence Districts: Set up special cells in districts with high child marriage rates to study and address implementation challenges.
  • Monitoring During Festivals: Special measures are advised for monitoring and addressing mass child marriages during festivals like Akha Teej and Ganesh Chaturthi, known for high occurrences of such marriages.
  • Ensure Girls' Safety: Implement laws and schemes like the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act and UJJAWALA to protect vulnerable girls.
  • Policies for Adolescent Girls: Administer cash transfer schemes and focus on girls in difficult circumstances, ensuring their rights and rehabilitation.


Q. Discuss why child marriage continues to be an issue in India.(10 marks, 150 words)