More children are being married off than before

The Census 2011 has recorded alarming figures for child marriage in Maharashtra; but experts say this is much more due to misreporting of age

Updated - September 16, 2016 10:01 am IST

Published - June 02, 2016 07:39 am IST

Maharashtra’s image as a socially progressive state hides the dark reality of child marriages, with a rise in the number of women marrying before age 18 on the rise.

According to the Census 2011, this trend has dropped at the national level, but its figures paint a different picture of the state. The Census recorded that over two lakh girls in the under-15 category and 9.79 lakh in the 15-19 age group were married.

While officials say the figures reflect the rise in population, activists contend that even if the figures have plateaued, it is alarming that child marriages are still prevalent and that many such marriages go unreported and undocumented.

“There is an overall improvement in the age of marriage. As the population increases, the number of cases go up,” Dr. Archana Patil, additional director, State Family Welfare Bureau, said. She said that the mean age for marriage across all age groups is better than the national average, as is the case in the under-18 category.

Before the Census 2011 data was published, Maharashtra was pleased with the findings of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-4 that recorded a sharp drop in the number of underage marriages. However, district-wise data shows that over 40 per cent girls get married before they turn 18. In districts like Aurangabad and Jalna, the numbers are alarming: 57.1 and 53.7 per cent respectively.

“Our study, however, recorded a much higher prevalence,” says Dr. Ashok Dyalchand, director, Institute of Health Management. The institute is based out of Pachod village in Aurangabad district and has been mapping child marriages since 1999. “In our most recent study (published in 2014), we found 66 per cent girls in the under-18 age group were married,” he said.

Dr. Dyalchand, like other activists in the state, said there is massive awareness about 18 being the legal age for marriage. This, he said, is the cause for the misreporting of age. Padma Deosthali, coordinator, Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes, said, “Besides, doctors ask women for their age, not for proof of age. No one knows if the patient is speaking the truth.”

Despite being pulled up by the Comptroller and Auditor General last year for not acting on child marriage, the state government is yet to respond.

In Sangola taluka of Solapur district, for instance, girls are traditionally married off in their early teens, but activists associated with local NGO Astitva said there have never been any checks, police complaints or even proactive measures by local elected representatives and health officials to check the trend.

“States such as Haryana and West Bengal have specific policies for reducing child marriages,” said Akhil Paliath, associate at Dasra Girls Alliance Team which collaborated with Dr Dyalchand’s organisation for the study. “Haryana was the first to start in 1994 with its apni beti apna dhan scheme: a cash reward initiative if the girl doesn’t marry till she turns 18.”

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