Child marriages are still rampant in the country, says Ministry

Child marriage is till rampant in the country, steeper in rural areas as compared to the urban areas. The figures speak for themselves. Rural India still witnesses an ‘incidence rate’ of child marriage that stands at an alarming 52 per cent when compared to urban average of 28 per cent.

The numbers are shown to be particularly high in States of West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

“While the mean age for marriage of girls in the country has improved from 19.3 years in 1990 to 21.0 years in 2010 as per the National Family Health Survey 2005-06, 47.3 per cent of all young women aged 20-24 were married by age 18, while 16 per cent of men in the ages of 20-49 were married by age 18. The issue is steeped in several multi-dimensional social, economic, cultural, community related aspects which make the prevention of child marriages a challenge for the government,” said Union Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) secretary Neela Ganagadharan.

In an effort to place the issue of child marriage high on the national agenda, recently MWCD held a national consultation to identify approaches and methods to build a common consensus and framework for preventing child marriage across the country. Various stakeholders participated in it.

“There is a need to design a multi-sectoral national strategy in this regard and a need for greater inter-ministerial efforts besides having child marriage as an element on advocacy campaigns of all ministries,” noted the secretary.

It was pointed out that “there is very low registration of cases against child marriage and that the National Crime Record Bureau shows that only 60 cases were registered in 2010 for violation of Prevention of Child Marriage Act (PCMA), 2006, where as the average marriage age in sample survey depicts a completely different scenario.”

The main points that emerged during the presentation session were put across by Delhi State Legislative Authority (DLSA) member secretary Asha Menon who said that “the problem of under-reporting of cases was coming up mainly due to the social sanction given to the child marriage, also it was observed that public prosecutors are not keen to take up cases of child marriage, in most case punishment is not given by the judiciary and the decision to annul marriage lies with the girl after attaining 18 years. Also, due to connivance of family and community, there is lack of strong evidence base in majority of cases, which weakens the case leading to state enforcement officials and non government organisation facing difficulty in prosecuting families involved in child marriage."

As part of the discussion it was noted that the poor state of public education is one of the major causes of child marriage. It was stressed that the general public needs to be made aware of the serious health implications cause of child marriage and also the fundamental issue, the violation of human rights.

Key presentation by the State governments of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Rajasthan and West Bengal noted that there was a need for convergence with programmes of the ministries of Human Resource Development and Health with that of MWCD.

“There is also a need for vulnerability mapping of districts, blocks and villages, greater use of multi-media campaigns and an urgent requirement for undertaking research on impact of conditional cash transfer. It would also help if the subject of child marriage is included in school/college curricula and there is greater emphasis on capacity building of child welfare committees, juvenile boards, police units and other stake holders,” the group noted.

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