Nearly 12 million Indian children were married before the age of 10 years–84 per cent of them Hindu and 11 per cent Muslim–reveals an IndiaSpend analysis of recently released census data.
To put it in context, this number is equivalent to Jammu & Kashmir’s population.
As many of 7.84 million (65 per cent) 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 reveal that 72 per cent of all Hindu girls married before 10 were in rural areas, as compared to 58.5 per cent Muslim girls, with higher levels of education correlating with later marriage.
Jain women marry latest (at a median age of 20.8 years), followed by Christian women (20.6 years) and Sikh women (19.9 years). Hindu and Muslim women have the lowest median age at first marriage (16.7 years), IndiaSpend reported earlier based on a seven-state report from Nirantar, a Delhi-based advocacy.
Women from urban areas, on average, marry more than two years later than their rural counterparts, IndiaSpend reported earlier.
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 per cent of illiterate children married before 10 are girls
As many as 5.4 million (44 per cent) married children under 10 were illiterate–80% of them female–indicating how lower levels of education correlate with early marriage.
As many as 1,403 females have never attended any educational institution for every 1,000 males who have not, IndiaSpend reported earlier.
In developing countries, girls with less access to quality education are more likely to marry early, argued Quentin Wodon, an advisor with the World Bank’s education department.
Better and safer job opportunities for girls may also reduce child marriage, as might better access to basic infrastructure (water, electricity), which frees up time spent on domestic chores for schooling, wrote Wodon.
30 per cent girls, 42 per cent boys married before legal ages
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 per cent of female population) were married before 18 in 2011; the number was 119 million in 2001 (44 per cent of female population), a decrease of 14 percentage points over the decade.
Among boys, 125 million were married before 21 years of age (42 per cent of male population) in 2011; the number was 120 million in 2001 (49 per cent of male population), a decrease of 7 percentage points over the decade.
(Devanik Saha is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi)