Half of Indian brides are underage – report

Close to half of India’s girls are married before the age of 18, and one in five is married even before she turns 15, a report by Dasra, a philanthropic foundation, said.

According to the report, India accounts for 40% of the world’s 60 million child marriages, which is the highest share globally.

Pakzan Dastoor, Advisory Research Manager at Dasra mentioned, “There are multiple issues when a girl is married early such as end of her education, health risks, domestic violence, early childbirth and even death while giving birth. Whereas on the positive side, there is clear evidence of how millions of girls are able to lead healthier, more productive and fulfilling lives for themselves and their families if they marry later.”

The report, “Marry me later:Preventing Child Marriage and Early Pregnancy in India”, also found that adolescent girls are twice as likely to die in childbirth as compared to women in their twenties and children of young mothers are 50% more likely to die than those born to mothers aged 20-29 years. At one level while girls are deprived of good health and well-being, the nation stands challenged on losing $7.7 billion a year due to loss of productivity, mainly because of adolescent pregnancies.

The report found that education became attractive only if there was a higher chance of getting a job after completing it.

“Creating an education-to-employment continuum is the key to providing girls with robust alternatives to marriage. While education (especially secondary schooling) enables girls to explore and pursue opportunities, it is incomplete without an end in sight. Well-paying jobs in and around the vicinity offer this befitting end.

“In addition to formal secondary schooling, attention needs to be paid to vocational/ skill based training, for girls not interested in formal education or for those interested in learning a trade,” it said.

According to it, the second key strategy for addressing child marriage is to identify and sensitize gatekeepers or key decision-makers within the family and community that often determine the fate of these girls.

“Meticulous implementation of birth and marriage registrations also plays a vital role. While birth registration offers a fool-proof evidence of age, it also counts the girl into the system that is supposed to protect her and ensure her wellbeing. Given that 59% of births still remain unregistered in India, registration of marriage allows the girls one more chance of being recognized by the government. It also enables girls to demand marital rights as well as helps track child brides that are trafficked for sex or repeat marriages. Finally, Dasra recommends a stronger focus on child brides who are extremely hard to reach out to and at the same time are highly vulnerable to emotional, sexual and physical abuse. In the absence of support structures they can rely upon, non profits need to proactively identify these adolescent brides and offer them the services, information and support needed to ensure their health, rights and wellbeing.”

Through its research process, Dasra reviewed over 300 non-profits to identify ten promising organizations that implement the above-mentioned strategies through their distinct, impactful and scalable interventions. It said it hopes to mainstream the issue by focusing popular attention not on the problem but on the solution; thereby encouraging many more people to join the drive and help India strengthen its response to child marriage.