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Fact: 1 in 6 Indian women marry under 18

Law no deterrent, girls suffer more than boys, and usual-suspects states top the shame list, show recently released Census data.

Written by ZEESHAN SHAIKH | Mumbai | Updated: June 5, 2015 6:05 am
child marriage, girls marriage, underage girls marriage, girl child marriage, girl wedding, women marriage, girl child wedding, wedding girl, marriage girl, indian express explained, indian express
Some 102.61 million women, roughly a sixth of India’s female population of 587.58 million, were married before they had turned 18, according to the Census data. (Source: Reuetrs photo)

Every sixth woman in India is pushed into child marriage, show data from the latest Census released last month. Laws intended to curb weddings of girls under the age of 18 and boys under 21 have failed, and underage unions are most prevalent, for both girls and boys, in Rajasthan. Many more girls are married young than boys, data show.

Some 102.61 million women, roughly a sixth of India’s female population of 587.58 million, were married before they had turned 18, according to the Census data.

Yet, according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for 2001-11, the span of the decennial survey, only 948 cases were registered countrywide against those promoting or performing child marriages. Only 157 individuals were convicted.


The introduction of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, which increased the punishment from the earlier three months or fine to up to two years in jail and up to Rs 2 lakh fine, does not seem to have helped.

According to the Census, 37.62 million women stated that they were married for fewer than four years when they were interviewed. These numbers represent ‘recent marriages’ — 6.5 million of them, or 17.23 per cent, said they were under 18 at the time of their wedding.
As per the Census, among women married for four years or fewer, the highest concentration of underage unions was in Rajasthan (31.38 per cent), followed by West Bengal (29.23 per cent), Jharkhand (27.90 per cent), Bihar (22.99 per cent) and Madhya Pradesh (22.49 per cent).

The total 102.61 million women counted were among the 339.6 million who were ever married. When surveyed, they had been married for between a day and over 40 years.


“A girl has always been perceived as a burden to the family, and her fate has always just been about doing the household chores and getting married and leaving the family home to live with her in-laws, so it is generally not thought worth spending money on her education.

Or, in cases of large families, she just can become an extra mouth to feed,” said Govind Singh Rathore, founder of Sambhali Trust, which works to empower women in Rajasthan.

“Implementation of the law to prevent child marriages seems to be weak,” Dora Giusti at UNICEF India’s New Delhi office said. “Almost everyone knows there is a law against child marriage. However, it still takes place as societal norms and pressure push people into breaking the law.”

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  1. M
    M S
    Jun 6, 2015 at 7:24 am
    I think we are beating up too much on this issue. The main focus should be how badly girl children are treated, fed, and uneducated since birth. We have seen so many girls who are mal-nourished compared to their brothers. Everyone, irrespective of gender should have access to enough food, basic needs, and education. The child marriage will be addressed on it's own.
    1. H
      Jun 6, 2015 at 10:31 pm
      Education is the key. Also, muslim law allows Child Marriage, need for reform there.
      1. Janardhan Prasad Dvs
        Jun 7, 2015 at 5:14 pm
        Laws are promulgated by the State. Whereas people have their own laws. These laws are called lex non scripta in the West. IN India these are followed by people as "Aachara"(customs and traditions). And State must strive to uphold the tradition unless it runs against the State's interests. I don't think marrying a girl when she is 16 or 17 is any thing wrong. Would the State arrange marriage after she crosses the legal age of marriage that is when she completed 18 years of age instantly ? No. That means it is the sole responsibility of Parents or elders to get married their daughter or ward. So in fact stopping a bride's marriage when it is getting consummated or when that marriage was consummated is nothing but excessive intervention of the State in the lives of the people especially in the lives of Women. Tradition avers that Achara Paramo Dharmah which means Tradition of a community is the supreme law. State must respect Acharas of the society.
        1. I
          Jun 5, 2015 at 3:48 pm
          Marriage is a personal matter. Whether son or daughter, parents are more responsible than government and laws. If laws are not relevant, people do not follow. Millions of marriages below the age specified by government clearly indicate that the people have rejected these laws for reasons best known to them. Government should take this as a feedback on the laws made it; if possible, government must amend the laws to suit the needs and culture of the people.
          1. P
            Aug 16, 2015 at 8:09 pm
            Indian culture is better than western culture.
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