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Child marriage in India

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Child marriage in India

Child marriage in India, according to Indian law, is a marriage where either the woman is below age 18 or the man is below age 21.[1] Most child marriages involve underage women, many of whom are in poor socio-economic conditions.[2]

Child marriages are prevalent in India. Estimates vary widely between sources as to the extent and scale of child marriages. The International Center for Research on Women-UNICEF publications have estimated India's child marriage rate to be 47% from small sample surveys of 1998,[3] while the United Nations reports it to be 30% in 2005.[4] The Census of India has counted and reported married women by age, with proportion of females in child marriage falling in each 10 year census period since 1981. In its 2001 census report, India stated zero married girls below age 10, 1.4 million married girls out of 59.2 million girls in the age 10-14, and 11.3 million married girls out of 46.3 million girls in the age 15-19 (which includes 18-19 age group).[5] Since 2001, child marriage rates in India have fallen another 46%, reaching an overall nationwide average 7% child marriage rates by 2009.[6] Jharkhand is the state with highest child marriage rates in India (14.1%), while Kerala is the only state where child marriage rates have increased in recent years, particularly in its Muslim community.[6][7] Rural rates of child marriages were three times higher than urban India rates in 2009.[6]

Child marriage was outlawed in 1929, under Indian law. However, in the British colonial times, the legal minimum age of marriage was set at 15 for girls and 18 for boys. Under protests from Muslim organizations in the undivided British India, a personal law

  1. ^ a b The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006 The Gazette of India, Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India (January 11, 2007)
  2. ^ A Note on Child Marriage UNICEF (July 2012), page 3
  3. ^ a b Child Marriage Facts and Figures
  4. ^ a b UN data on Child Marriage Rates
  5. ^ a b Table C-2 Marital Status by Age and Sex Subtable C0402, India Total Females Married by Age Group, 2001 Census of India, Government of India (2009)
  6. ^ a b c d K. Sinha Nearly 50% fall in brides married below 18 The Times of India (February 10, 2012)
  7. ^ R Gopakumar, Child marriages high in Kerala Deccan Herald (June 19, 2013)
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Hilary Amster, Child marriage in India University of San Francisco (2009)
  9. ^ a b c Child Marriage in India: Achievements, Gaps and Challenges [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights|OHCHR], United Nations
  10. ^ a b c d e M.G. Radhakrishnan and J. Binduraj, In a league of their own India Today (July 5, 2013)
  11. ^ a b Muzaffar Ali Sajjad And Ors. vs State Of Andhra Pradesh on 9 November, 2001 Andhra Pradesh High Court, India
  12. ^ a b c International Center for Research on Women, "Child Marriage Facts and Figures"
  13. ^ The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 British India
  14. ^ a b UNICEF, "Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse"
  15. ^ UN Women, Definition of forced and child marriage (2012)
  16. ^ a b A Handbook of Statistical Indicators of Indian Women Ministry of Women and Child Welfare, Govt of India (2007)
  17. ^ Raj, A., Saggurti, N., Balaiah, D., & Silverman, J. G. (2009), Prevalence of child marriage and its effect on fertility and fertility-control outcomes of young women in India: a cross-sectional, observational study, The Lancet, 373(9678), pages 1883-1889.
  18. ^ a b Jasodhara Bagchi et al., The Changing Status of Women in West Bengal, 1970-2000: The Challenge Ahead, SAGE Publications, ISBN 978-0761932420, Table 1.10, page 29, rows for India totals
  19. ^ Percentage of Female by age at effective marriage and by residence India and bigger States, 2011 Chapter 2, Population Composition, Table Statement 12, India totals for < 18, 2011 Census of India, Government of India (2013), page 26
  20. ^ Mean age at effective marriage of Female by residence India and bigger States, 2011 Chapter 2, Population Composition, Table Statement 13, India totals for All ages, 2011 Census of India, Government of India (2013), page 27
  21. ^ Women and men in India 2012 CSO/Census India 2011, Government of India, See page xxi, Highlights item 5
  22. ^ National Family Health Survey - India, International Institute for Population Sciences and Government of India (2009), see Table 6.1
  23. ^ a b c Goswami, Ruchira, 2010, "Child Marriage in India: Mapping the Trajectory of Legal Reforms"
  24. ^ Government of India: Ministry of Women and Child Development, "The Child Marriage Restraint Act"
  25. ^ a b c Government of India: Ministry of Women and Child Development, "The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006," UNICEF
  26. ^ Goswami, Ruchira, 2010, "Child Marriage in India: Mapping the Trajectory of Legal Reform"
  27. ^ Mrs. Tahra Begum vs State Of Delhi & Ors. on 9 May, 2012 Archive of Legal Proceedings, Delhi High Court, India
  28. ^ a b 2012 [Volume No. 3] JCC [Journal of Criminal Cases] Page No. 2148
  29. ^ United Nations, 2003, "Article 16"
  30. ^ United Nations, "Treaty Collection"
  31. ^ a b Birodkar, Sudheer, "Hindu Social Customs"
  32. ^ Though Illegal, Child Marriage Is Popular in Part of India, The New York Times (May 11, 1998)
  33. ^ H Ralston (1991), Religious Movements and the Status of Women in India, Social Compass, vol. 38, no. 1, pages 43-53
  34. ^ Sophie Tharakan and Michael Tharakan (1975), Status of women in India: a historical perspective, Social Scientist, Vol. 4, No. 4/5, pages 115-123
  35. ^ Abgeliki Laiou (1993), Coercion to sex and marriage in ancient and medieval societies, Washington, DC, pages 85-190
  36. ^ Sanyukta, M.; M. Greene and A. Malhotra (2003), Too Young to Wed: The Lives, Rights, and Health of Young Married Girls, ICRW, Washington D.C.
  37. ^ B Nagi, Child Marriage in India: A Study of Its Differential Patterns in Rajasthan, ISBN 978-8170994602
  38. ^ Child Marriage and Poverty ICRW
  39. ^ Targeting Girls in the Name of Tradition: Child Marriage Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues, US Department of State, (July 15, 2010)
  40. ^ Chandrasekhar, S., 2010, "Factors Affecting Age and Marriage and Age at First Birth in India," Journal of Quantitative Economics, pg. 83
  41. ^ Childinfo, 2009, "Statistics by Area- Child Marriage," UNICEF
  42. ^ UNICEF, "Early marriage: A childhood interrupted"
  43. ^ a b c International Center for Research on Women, "Child Marriage Facts and Figures"
  44. ^ a b Hervish, Alexandra, Charlotte Feldman-Jacobs, 2011, "Who Speaks for Me? Ending Child Marriage," Population Reference Bureau, pg. 2
  45. ^ Raj, Anita, Niranjan Saggurti, Donta Balaiah, Jay G. Silverman, 2010, "Prevalence of Child Marriage and its Impact on the Fertility and Fertility Control Behaviors of Young Women in India"
  46. ^ Chandrasekhar, S., 2010, "Factors Affecting Age and Marriage and Age at First Birth in India," Journal of Quantitative Economics, pg. 86
  47. ^ United States Agency for International Development, 2007, "New Insights on Preventing Child Marriage: A Global Analysis of Factors and Programs," pg. 9


See also

The International Centre for Research on Women will evaluate Apni Beti, Apna Dhan over the course of the year 2012, when the program's initial participants turn 18, to see if the programme, particularly the cash incentive, has motivated parents to delay their daughters' marriages. "We have evidence that conditional cash transfer programmes are very effective in keeping girls in school and getting them immunised, but we don’t yet have proof that this strategy works for preventing marriage," said Pranita Achyut, the program manager for Apni Beti, Apna Dhan. "If Haryana state’s approach proves to be valuable, it could potentially be scaled up to make a significant difference in many more girls' lives – and not only in India".[12]

Apni Beti, Apna Dhan (ABAD), which translates to "My daughter, My wealth," is one of India's first conditional cash transfer programmes dedicated to delaying young marriages across the nation. In 1994, the Indian government implemented this programme in the state of Haryana. On the birth of a mother's first, second, or third child, they are set to receive INR 500, or US$11 within the first 15 days to cover their post-delivery needs. Along with this, the government gives INR 2,500, or US$55, to invest in a long-term savings bond in the daughter's name, which can be later cashed for INR 25,000, or US$550, after her 18 birthday. She can only receive the money if she is not married. Anju Malhotra, an expert on child marriage and adolescent girls said of this programme, "No other conditional cash transfer has this focus of delaying marriage... It's an incentive to encourage parents to value their daughters."[12]

Prevention programmes in India

Young girls in a child marriage are more likely to experience domestic violence in their marriages as opposed to older women. A study conducted in India by the International Centre for Research on Women showed that girls married before 18 years of age are twice as likely to be beaten, slapped, or threatened by their husbands[43] and three times more likely to experience sexual violence.[47] Young brides often show symptoms of sexual abuse and post-traumatic stress.[43]


A study conducted in India by the International Institute for Population Sciences and Macro International in 2005 and 2006 showed high fertility, low fertility control, and poor fertility outcomes data within child marriages. 90.8% of young married women reported no use of a contraceptive prior to having their first child. 23.9% reported having a child within the first year of marriage. 17.3% reported having three or more children over the course of the marriage. 23% reported a rapid repeat childbirth, and 15.2% reported an unwanted pregnancy. 15.3% reported a pregnancy termination (stillbirths, miscarriages or abortions).[45] Fertility rates are higher in slums than in urban areas.[46]

Fertility outcomes

Infants born to mothers under the age of 18 are 60% more likely to die in their first year than to mothers over the age of 19. If the children survive, they are more likely to suffer from low birth weight, malnutrition, and late physical and cognitive development.[14][44]

Infant health

Girls who marry earlier in life are less likely to be informed about reproductive issues,[40] and because of this, pregnancy-related deaths are known to be the leading cause of mortality among married girls between 15 and 19 years of age.[41] These girls are twice more likely to die in childbirth than girls between 20 and 24 years of age.[42] Girls younger than 15 years of age are 5 times more likely to die in childbirth.[43][44]

Early maternal deaths

Consequences of child marriage

[10] In some parts of India, the existence of personal laws for Muslims are a cause of child marriages. For example, in

Poverty in India has been cited as a cause of early marriages. Child marriages of girls is a way out of desperate economic conditions, and way to reduce the expenses of a poor family.[38][39]

Dowry is a practice in India where the bride's family transfers wealth to the groom; in many cases, it is a demand and condition of marriage from the groom's family. Dowry is found among all religious faiths in India, and the amount of dowry demanded and given by the bride's family has been correlated to the age of girl. Nagi,[37] in 1993, suggested that the practice of dowry creates a fear and pressure to avoid late marriages, and encourages early marriage.

Parents of a child entering into a child marriage are often poor and use the marriage as a way to make her future better, especially in areas with little economic opportunities.[36]

The origin of child marriages is a controversial subject. A New York Times report and other scholars claim the origin of child marriages in India to be Muslim invasions that began more than 1,000 years ago. The invaders raped unmarried Hindu girls or carried them off as booty, prompting Hindu communities to marry off their daughters early to protect them.[32][33][34] Others suggest child marriages were common everywhere in the world before the 19th century.[35]

Origin and causes of child marriage

Child marriage tradition in India has social reasons too. Indians performed child marriages to get their girls protected against rapes and abductions by foreign rulers. The other reason was to strengthen family relations and bonds, and to satisfy the elder people who wanted to see their grand children marriages before their death. However in child marriage system, the parents used to send their girls to their husband’s house only after attaining Puberty. Child marriages caused the young couple to lead family life regardless of likes and dislikes. In some economically poor families, the parents used to perform marriages to their under aged girls even with much elderly men. Some families used to perform child marriages with a fear that the children may deviate off the track after reaching teenage. children are forced to marry as their parents create pressure on them because if young girls are not married in some villages the whole family is abandoned from the village.

Social reasons

Indian feudalistic society became present, where characteristics such as honor, rivalry, and animosity were important qualities to possess, and because of this, families and kingdoms created strong military alliances to preserve or destroy power between them. To ensure the alliance was upheld by both sides, each family exchanged a young member of their household who was reared and educated at the other family's estate. The children were the assurance that the alliance between the families was honored, but in case it wasn't enough, the families made a marriage arrangement to deepen the alliance even further. They believed the marriage wouldn't work if they waited for the young children to grow up because they could possibly pick someone outside of the alliance. If they performed the marriage while the children were still young and susceptible to their parents' influence, the children would have no choice but to marry who their parents choose to strengthen the alliance.[31]

Military alliances

At the time of the Delhi Sultanate political atmosphere was turbulent and ruled by Delhi Sultans in an absolute monarchy government. The sultans had an extreme commitment to their religion and forced many to convert, causing socio-cultural unrest, and Hindu women suffered the most. These days the Delhi Sultans produced practices such as child marriage and had lowered the status of women even further. They invented the ill omen of giving birth to a female baby and believed that young unmarried girls caused disaster. Child marriage became a widespread cultural practice with various reasons to justify it, and many marriages were performed while the girl was still an infant.[31]

Political turmoil

History of child marriage

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, commonly known as CEDAW, is an international bill attempting to end discrimination against women. Article 16, Marriage and Family Life, states that all women, as well as men, have the right to choose their spouse, to have the same responsibilities, and to decide on how many children and the spacing between them. This convention states that child marriage should not have a legal effect, all action must be taken to enforce a minimum age, and that all marriages must be put into an official registry.[29] India signed the convention on 30 July 1980 but made the declaration that, because of the nation's size and amount of people, it's impractical to have a registration of marriages.[30]


There is a standing legal confusion as to Marital Rape within prohibited Child Marriages in India. Marital rape per se is not a crime in India; but the position with regard to children is confusing. While the exception under the criminal law (section 375, Indian Penal Code, 1860) applicable to adults puts an exception and allows marital rape of a girl child between the age of 15–18 years by her husband; another new and progressive legislation Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 disallows any such sexual relationships and puts such crimes with marriages as an aggravated offense. A Public Interest Litigation filled by Independent Thought - an organization working on child rights law, is being heard in the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India for declaring the exception allowing marital rape within prohibited child marriages as unconstitutional; Independent Thought vs. Union of India [W.P(civil) 382 of 2013].

Legal Action on Legal Confusion

Muslim organizations of India have long argued[11][27] that Indian laws, passed by its parliament, such as the 2006 child marriage law do not apply to Muslims, because marriage is a personal law subject.[8][10] The Delhi High Court, as well as other state high courts of India, have disagreed. The Delhi Court, for example, ruled that Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 overrides all personal laws and governs each and every citizen of India[28] The ruling stated that an under-age marriage, where either the man or woman is over 16 years old, would not be a void marriage but voidable one, which would become valid if no steps are taken by such court has option[s] to order otherwise. In case either of the parties is less than 16 years old, the marriage is void, given the age of consent is 16 in India, sex with minors under the age of 16 is a statutory crime under Section 376 of Indian Penal Code.[28]


In response to the plea (Writ Petition (C) 212/2003) of the Forum for Fact-finding Documentation and Advocacy at the Supreme Court, the Government of India brought the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) in 2006, and it came into effect on 1 November 2007 to address and fix the shortcomings of the Child Marriage Restraint Act.[25] The change in name was meant to reflect the prevention and prohibition of child marriage, rather than restraining it.[23][25] The previous Act also made it difficult and time consuming to act against child marriages and did not focus on authorities as possible figures for preventing the marriages.[25] This Act kept the ages of adult males and females the same but made some significant changes to further protect the children. Boys and girls forced into child marriages as minors have the option of voiding their marriage up to two years after reaching adulthood, and in certain circumstances, marriages of minors can be null and void before they reach adulthood. All valuables, money, and gifts must be returned if the marriage is nullified, and the girl must be provided with a place of residency until she marries or becomes an adult. Children born from child marriages are considered legitimate, and the courts are expected to give parental custody with the children's best interests in mind. Any male over 18 years of age who enters into a marriage with a minor or anyone who directs or conducts a child marriage ceremony can be punished with up to two years of imprisonment or a fine.[26]

The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006

The Child Marriage Restraint Act, also called the Sarda Act,[23] was a law to restrict the practice of child marriage. It was enacted on 1 April 1930, extended across the whole nation, with the exceptions of the states of Jammu and Kashmir, and applied to every Indian citizen. Its goal was to eliminate the dangers placed on young girls who could not handle the stress of married life and avoid early deaths. This Act defined a male child as 21 years or younger, a female child as 18 years or younger, and a minor as a child of either sex 18 years or younger. The punishment for a male between 18 and 21 years marrying a child became imprisonment of up to 15 days, a fine of 1,000 rupees, or both. The punishment for a male above 21 years of age became imprisonment of up to three months and a possible fine. The punishment for anyone who performed or directed a child marriage ceremony became imprisonment of up to three months and a possible fine, unless he could prove the marriage he performed was not a child marriage. The punishment for a parent or guardian of a child taking place in the marriage became imprisonment of up to three months or a possible fine.[24] It was amended in 1940 and 1978 to continue raising the ages of male and female children.[23]

The Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929

Laws against child marriage

According to 2011 nationwide census of India, the average age of marriage for women in India is 21.2.[20][21] In the age group 15-19, 69.6% of all women surveyed in India had never been married.[22]

The states with highest observed marriage rates for under-18 girls in 2009, according to a Registrar General of India report, were Jharkhand (14.1%), West Bengal (13.6%), Bihar (9.3%), Uttar Pradesh (8.9%) and Assam (8.8%).[6] According to this report, despite sharp reductions in child marriage rates since 1991, still 7% of women passing the age of 18 in India were married as of 2009. UNICEF India has played a significant role in highlighting the Indian child marriage rate prevalence data from its 1990s study.

The small sample surveys have different methods of estimating overall child marriages in India, some using multi-year basis data. For example, NFHS-3 data for 2005 mentioned in above table, used a survey of women aged 20–24, where they were asked if they were married before they were 18.[16] The NFHS-3 also surveyed older women, up to the age of 49, asking the same question. The survey found that many more 40-49 were married before they turned 18, than 20-24 age women who were interviewed. In 1970s, the minimum legal age of marriage, in India, for women was 15.[9]

Source % Females married
(< 18)
Data Year Sampling method Reference
ICRW 47 1998 small sample survey [3]
UN 30 2005 small sample survey [4]
NFHS-3 44.5 1998-2002 small sample survey [16][17]
Census of India 43.4 1981 Nationwide census [18]
Census of India 35.3 1991 Nationwide census [18]
Census of India 14.4 2001 Nationwide census [5]
Census of India 3.7 2011 Nationwide census [19]

Child marriage rate estimates vary significantly between sources, with some based on small local survey samples. The table below provides some of child marriage estimates for India along with the nature of data collection.


UNICEF defines child marriage as a formal marriage or informal union before 18 years of age.[14] UN Women has proposed that child marriage be defined as a forced marriage because they believe children under age 18 are incapable of giving a legally valid consent.[15]


The definition of child marriage was last updated by India with its The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006, which applies only (a) to Hindus, Christians, Jains, Buddhists and those who are non-Muslims of India, and (b) outside the state of Jammu and Kashmir. For Muslims of India, child marriage definition and regulations based on Sharia and Nikah has been claimed as a personal law subject.[8][10] For all others, The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006 defines "child marriage" means a marriage, or a marriage about to be solemnized, to which either of the contracting parties is a child; and child for purposes of marriage is defined based on gender of the person - if a male, it is 21 years of age, and if a female, 18 years of age.[1]

The 1929 law for non-Muslims was revised a several times after India gained its independence from the colonial rule, particularly in 1978 when the marriage age was raised by 3 years each for men and women.[9] The applicability and permissibility of child marriage among Muslims under the 1937 Act, under India's Constitution adopted in 1950, remains a controversial subject, with a series of Supreme Court cases and rulings.[8]

...any other provision of Personal Law, marriage, dissolution of marriage, including talaq, ila, zihar, lian, khula and mubaraat, maintenance, dower, guardianship, gifts, trusts and trust properties, and wakfs (other than charities and charitable institutions and charitable and religious endowments) the rule of decision in cases where the parties are Muslims shall be the Muslim Personal Law (Shariats)
—Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act of 1937[8]

Child marriage is complex subject under Indian law. It was defined by The Child Marriage Restraint Act in 1929,[13] and it set the minimum age of marriage for men as 18, and women as 15. That law was questioned by Muslims, then superseded by personal law applicable only to Muslims in British India with Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act of 1937,[8] which implied no minimum limit and allowed parental or guardian consent in case of Muslim marriages. Section 2 of the 1937 Act stated,


Definitions of child marriage


  • Definitions of child marriage 1
    • India 1.1
    • World 1.2
  • Statistics 2
  • Laws against child marriage 3
    • The Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 3.1
    • The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 3.2
      • Applicability 3.2.1
    • Legal Action on Legal Confusion 3.3
    • CEDAW 3.4
  • History of child marriage 4
    • Political turmoil 4.1
    • Military alliances 4.2
    • Social reasons 4.3
  • Origin and causes of child marriage 5
  • Consequences of child marriage 6
    • Early maternal deaths 6.1
    • Infant health 6.2
    • Fertility outcomes 6.3
    • Violence 6.4
  • Prevention programmes in India 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9

Several states of India have introduced incentives to delay marriages. For example, the state of Haryana introduced the so-called Apni Beti, Apna Dhan program in 1994, which translates to "My daughter, My wealth". It is a conditional cash transfer programme dedicated to delaying young marriages by providing a government paid bond in her name, payable to her parents, in the amount of 25000 (US$410), after her 18th birthday if she is not married.[12]

[10] Child marriage is an active political subject as well as a subject of continuing cases under review in the highest courts of India.[11][10]

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