Assam is cracking down on child marriage

The Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations call for global action to end human rights violations by 2030. In that regard, India has made tremendous progress, as evidenced by the drop in child marriage from 47.4 percent in 2005 to 23.3 percent in 2021. Child marriage in South Asia will also be reduced by 50% by 2021.

Why is this in the news?

  • Himanta Biswa Sarma, the Chief Minister of Assam, has launched a state-wide crackdown on child marriage.
  • Men marrying girls under the age of 14 are booked under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses (POCSO) Act, while those marrying girls between the ages of 14 and 18 are booked under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act.
  • The CM has also stated that the police will arrest anyone who has participated in child marriage in the last seven years.

Background: Data from Assam

  • Assam has the highest maternal mortality rate in the country, with 195 fatalities per one lakh live births from 2018 to 2020, according to data provided by the Registrar General of India in 2022.
  • According to the National Family Health Survey-5, Assam has the third highest infant mortality rate, with 32 newborn deaths for every 1,000 live births.
  • The government’s plan to address the problem is as follows: The Assam government has stated that its goal is to address the state’s high maternal and infant mortality rates, which it has linked to early motherhood.

Child marriage

  • Any formal or informal union between a child under the age of 18 and an adult and another child is referred to as child marriage.
  • The Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021, sets the marriageable age for women at 21 years.

The Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic

  • According to UNICEF estimates, the pandemic had put 10 million more girls at risk of becoming child brides globally, threatening the prosperity and growth of communities and nations for generations.
  • India has been working hard to maintain the momentum gained in combating the scourge of child marriage.

What is the relationship between child marriage and national development?

  • Child marriages violate a child’s fundamental right to education, health, and the freedom to live full, thriving lives.
  • Increased susceptibility to abuse and violence: There is overwhelming evidence that child marriage increases the vulnerability of girls to abuse, violence, and exploitation.
  • Gender Inequality: Child marriage is a gendered form of violence that is both a cause and an effect of gender inequality and discrimination, and it is a significant challenge for girls and their families worldwide.
  • Child marriage irreparably harms a girl’s childhood by imposing adult responsibilities on her before she is physically and mentally mature.
  • Increased risk of forced pregnancy and maternal mortality: Because child brides have little bodily autonomy, they are more likely to be forced pregnant, increasing the risk of maternal and infant mortality.
  • A girl’s education is less likely to be valued; evidence shows that girls with less education are more likely to marry young, and child marriage typically ends a girl’s education.
  • Support systems dwindle: A child bride’s support systems are further dwindled by a lack of education and isolation from peers. Her ability to overcome poverty for herself and her children is hampered by a lack of skills and mobility.
  • Negative impact on community and national development: The social and economic vulnerabilities that child brides face limit their ability to contribute to the growth and development of their community and country.
  • Intergenerational consequences: They are also more likely to experience intimate partner violence and have poorer economic and health outcomes than their single counterparts, which eventually trickles down to their own children, putting additional strain on the country’s ability to provide quality healthcare and education.

Prevalence of child marriage in India

  • Despite the fact that legislation prohibiting child marriage has been in place in India since 1929, the majority of child brides in the world (223 million, or one-third of the total) live in India.
  • Despite the fact that it is illegal for girls under the age of 18, and boys under the age of 21, to marry in India under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006, UNFPA-UNICEF estimates that at least 1.5 million underage girls marry each year.
  • Ending the practise of child marriage is critical to addressing the numerous human rights violations that impede girls’ gender equality.

To combat child marriage, it is necessary to first understand what drives it

  • Common causes include: While the practice’s origins vary across nations and cultures, it is sustained by poverty, a lack of educational opportunities, and limited access to healthcare.
  • Financial burden: Some families marry off their daughters to reduce their financial burden. Other reasons cited include shrinking living spaces and growing concerns about the safety of adolescent girls.
  • Families also act in this manner because they believe it will protect their daughters’ futures. Gender roles and marriage-age norms, stereotypes, and the socioeconomic risks of unmarried pregnancies all contribute to the practise.

@the end

Legal safeguards and their strict enforcement are important, but they are only one part of the solution. To end child marriages, both state and non-state actors must place girls at the centre of the solution, regardless of their social status or marginalisation. The state can penalise and criminalise the act, but society as a whole plays an important role.

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