Unicef Data Shows Decline of Child Marriages in India
The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund published a press release on Tuesday, March 6 showing a decline in child marriage rates in India. Javier Aguilar, Unicef’s Chief of Child Protection, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that “in the current trend, 27 percent of girls, or nearly 1.5 million girls, get married before they turn 18 in India. This is a sharp decline from 47 percent a decade ago.”
According to Unicef, India constitutes more than 20 percent of the world's adolescent population and accounts for the highest number of child marriages in South Asia given its size and population. Over 25 million child marriages worldwide occured in the last ten years due to “accelerated progress,” with India and South Asia representing a large portion of this reduction. Campaigners and officials have attributed this decrease to several factors including better access to education for women and increased public awareness of the negative impacts of child marriage.
Child marriage has long been a deeply rooted part of Indian society, and India’s child marriage rate is one of the highest in the world, largely due to social and economic pressures. Recent laws in India, however, have begun to address the problem. The legal age of marriage in India is 18 for women and 21 for men, and the Supreme Court recently ruled that sex with a child bride constitutes as rape. In addition, India’s Prohibition of Child Marriage Act imposes a fine of 100,000 rupees (approximately $2,023) and two years in prison for parents who are caught trying to marry off their underage children.
Despite this progress, many recognize that India and other parts of South Asia , as well as the rest of the world, still have a long way to go in terms of ending the practice of child marriage. It is an incredibly widespread and severe issue that affects girls worldwide, and this problem will not solve itself.
Anju Malhotra, the Principal Gender Adviser for Unicef, issued a statement saying that “when a girl is forced to marry as a child, she faces immediate and lifelong consequences… Given the life-altering impact child marriage has on a young girl's life, any reduction is welcome news, but we've got a long way to go.”
Progress is positive, but Malhotra recognizes the importance of strengthening efforts to reduce child marriage rather than becoming complacent. She believes that “every child marriage prevented gives another girl the chance to fulfill her potential, but given the world has pledged to end child marriage by 2030, we’re going to have to collectively redouble efforts to prevent millions of girls from having their childhoods stolen through this devastating practice.”