Child Marriage in India

Child Marriage in India – Social Justice Notes

Child marriage is a common practice in some societies in India, where a young girl under the age of fifteen is married to an adult man or where the marriage is arranged between two children but they don’t meet until they are of marriageable age. According to UNICEF, one third of the world’s child brides live in India and the organization has warned against the increase in child marriages due to the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To achieve the goal of ending child marriages by 2030, it is essential to integrate COVID-19 response efforts with efforts to eliminate child marriages. The factors that contribute to the persistence of this practice include poverty, lack of education, perpetuation of patriarchal relationships that promote gender inequalities, and cultural norms that support child marriages.

Facts and Figures – Child Marriage in India

  • Child marriage is a prevalent issue in India, with nearly half of all brides being married as children.
  • Although there has been a decrease in the overall incidence of child marriage in the country, progress has been slow, particularly for girls aged 15 to 18.
  • Rural areas have higher rates of child marriage compared to urban areas, with 48% of child marriages taking place in rural areas compared to 29% in urban areas. There are also differences in rates of child marriage across different groups, including ethnic and caste groups.
  • Education is a significant factor in reducing the likelihood of child marriage. Girls who have received 10 years of education have a six times lower chance of being married before they turn 18 compared to those with less education.
  • According to the National Family Health Survey, 40% of the world’s 60 million child marriages take place in India.
  • The country also has the 14th highest rate of child marriage in the world, according to the International Center for Research on Women.
  • These statistics highlight the need for continued efforts to address the issue of child marriage in India, including increasing access to education and promoting gender equality.

Factors resulting in Child Marriage in India

Child marriage in India is a complex issue with various social, economic, and cultural factors contributing to its perpetuation. Some of the key factors include:

  1. Lack of education: Women who have received less education are more likely to be married as children. Around 45% of women with no education and 40% with only primary education were married before the age of 18, according to the National Family Health Survey.
  2. Burden and Economic factors: Child marriages are seen as a way to quickly earn money, as they often result in a large dowry being given to the girl’s family. Women from poor households are more likely to be married as children, with over 30% of women from the lowest two wealth quintiles married by the age of 18, compared to only 8% in the wealthiest quintile.
  3. Social background: Child marriages are more prevalent in rural areas and among Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
  4. Trafficking: Poor families may sell their daughters, not just into marriage, but also into prostitution, as the transaction provides a significant financial benefit to the girl’s family and harms the girl.
  5. Limited Economic Role of Women: Women’s work is often confined to the household and is not valued, leading to a perception of girls as a liability. In addition, the practice of dowry, although illegal for five decades, is still common in India, and the amount of dowry often increases with the age and education level of the girl, perpetuating the cycle of child marriage.
  6. Lack of Awareness and Social Protection: The families and girls who could benefit from social protection programs may not be aware of them, and these programs are often limited to providing cash transfers without addressing the root causes of child marriage.

Interlinkage between Poverty & Child Marriage

  • The interlinkages between poverty and child marriage are significant.
    • Most families in rural areas who are poor have large family sizes and cannot take care of their children.
    • Early marriages are seen as a way to reduce the burden of taking care of children.
    • Parents also arrange marriages between their children and creditors to settle debts.
    • Lack of access to schools and child helplines puts girls at risk of being forced into marriage.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation, with a significant increase in child marriages across the country.
    • Loss of jobs and life savings has forced parents to marry off their daughters at an early age to reduce the financial burden.
    • Weak law enforcement, patriarchal norms, and concern about family honor have also contributed to the rise in child marriages.
    • States like West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh have recorded high numbers of child marriages during the lockdown period.
    • According to ChildLine India, 5,214 child marriages were reported in the first four months of lockdown.
    • UNICEF has noted that economic pressures due to the pandemic has pushed poor parents to marry off their girls early.


  • In Madhya Pradesh, 46 child marriages were recorded between November 2019 and March 2020. This number jumped to 117 in just three months of the lockdown from April to June 2020.
  • In Telangana, 204 child marriages were performed in 25 out of 33 districts during the lockdown period from March 24 to May 31, 2020.

Impact of Child Marriage on Indian Economy:

  • Child marriage can lead to a vicious cycle of poverty and negatively affect the Indian economy.
  • Lack of Skills, Knowledge and Job Prospects: Children married at a young age are less likely to possess the skills, knowledge, and job prospects needed to break free from poverty and contribute to their country’s social and economic growth.
  • Increased Fertility: Child marriage leads girls to have children at a younger age and more children throughout their lifetime, which places an additional economic burden on households.
  • Cost to the Economy: Child marriage is estimated to cost economies at least 1.7% of their GDP, and it increases the total fertility of women by 17%, which can harm developing countries struggling with high population growth.
  • Financial Benefits of Ending Child Marriage: According to a study by IRCW, the financial benefits of ending child marriage are estimated to be $22.1 billion globally in the first year (2015). By 2030, this number is expected to reach $566 billion annually, for a cumulative welfare benefit of over $4 trillion. India accounts for one in three child marriages, so this impact is significant for the country.
  • Increased Availability of Funds: Ending child marriage would result in decreased household sizes, leading to increased availability of funds for food, education, health care, and other expenses for other family members.

Government measures to curb Child Marriage in India

  • Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929: This act aimed to prevent child marriages in India and protect the life and health of young girls who were unable to handle the pressures of married life. The act applied to the whole of India except the state of Jammu and Kashmir and applied to all Indian citizens within and outside of India.
  • Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006: This act replaced the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 and defined a child as a male below 21 years and female below 18 years. It imposed punishments for child marriage such as rigorous imprisonment for 2 years and/or a fine of INR 1 lakh. The act also provided for the appointment of Child Marriage Prohibition Officers to prevent child marriages and spread awareness about the issue.
  • State Government Initiatives: The state governments have been requested to take special initiatives to delay marriages on traditional days such as Akha Teej.
  • Awareness Campaigns: Advertisements in the press and electronic media, along with special occasions such as International Women’s Day and National Girl Child Day, are used to create awareness about child marriages and related issues.
  • Sabla Programme: The Women and Child Ministry’s Sabla programme provides training to adolescent girls between the ages of 11 and 18 on legal rights, including the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006.

Preventing Child Marriages in India: A Comprehensive Approach

I. Education

  • The Power of Education: It is widely recognized that education is one of the most effective strategies for preventing child marriages. When girls have access to education, they are more likely to delay marriage and to have positive attitudes towards their own opportunities and potential.
  • Examples: India has made significant progress in promoting education for girls, through initiatives such as the Right to Education Act, the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao program, and the promotion of primary and secondary education for girls.

II. Community Mobilization

  • The Importance of Community Engagement: Preventing child marriages requires a concerted effort from communities and civil society organizations, working together with the government and media to raise awareness and change attitudes.
  • Examples: India has a rich tradition of community mobilization, from oath-taking ceremonies and pledges, to working with influential leaders and utilizing traditional and folk media. The government has also formed partnerships with NGOs to support these efforts, through programs like SABLA.

III. Gender Sensitization

  • Building Gender Sensitivity: It is essential to build awareness and understanding of gender issues and child marriage among key actors, including the police, NGOs, and the public.
  • Examples: India has made significant progress in this area, through programs like the Odisha Child Marriage Resistance Forum and the UNICEF-supported gender training programs for police and NGOs.

IV. Law Enforcement

  • The Role of the Law: The laws against child marriage must be enforced, with appropriate support mechanisms and capacity building for those responsible for enforcement.
  • Examples: The Child Marriage Prohibition Act of 2006 defines a child as a male below 21 years and a female below 18 years, and provides for punishments of imprisonment and fines for those who engage in child marriages.

V. Girls’ Empowerment

  • Empowering Girls: It is essential to empower girls by providing them with life skills, protection skills, education, and employment opportunities.
  • Examples: India has initiated several programs to empower girls, including the Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls (SABLA), which provides training and education on legal rights, and the Dhanalakshmi program, which provides financial incentives for the education and survival of the girl child.

VI. Incentives

  • The Power of Incentives: Incentives can play a critical role in changing attitudes and behaviors related to child marriage, by addressing the economic and social drivers of the practice.
  • Examples: India has a range of incentives in place, including the Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana, which incentivizes people to give equal treatment to their daughters, and conditional cash transfer schemes, which provide financial support to families in exchange for certain behaviors, such as sending their children to school or delaying marriage.

VII. Child Protection Workers

  • The Importance of Child Protection: Keeping children safe from the dangers of early marriage requires a robust system of child protection, including workers at the grassroots level who can identify and intervene in cases of child marriage.
  • Examples: India has a strong tradition of grassroots workers, who have played a critical role in ensuring that health and social services reach people in need, and who could be trained and equipped to help prevent child marriages in their communities.

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