According to the 2011 Census data on Marital Status of Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes released on Monday, there were over 35,000 children who were married when they were between 10 years and 14 years of age.
The instances of child marriages, as per this data, is higher among Scheduled Tribes where 25,508 persons in the 10-14 year age group are married (9,878 Males and 15,630 females). Among them 1009 are widowed, 526 are separated and 285 are divorced.
Subscriber Only Stories
While the problem seems to be more widespread in the rural areas of Gujarat, the 2011 Census figures show that the issue is more serious in some of the local tribes like Bhils, Dhodia, Halpati, Gamit, Kokna, Nayaka, Rathawa and Varli. For instance, among Bhils — who constitute 40 percent of the total tribal population of the state who largely reside on “poorvi paati” or the eastern belt, stretching from Banaskantha in the North to Dangs in the South — the number of married persons in this age group is over 11,500.
The presence of many married persons in this age bracket is in violation of the Prohibition of the Child Marriage Act, 2006, which lays down the minimum age for marriage for all Indian citizens, as 21 years for men and 18 years for women. “It is surprising to know that there are so many married tribals in this age bracket in Gujarat. Normally, some of the tribals of the state, especially in the southern parts, tend to get married when they are between 16-18 years,” said Satyakam Joshi, senior sociologist and director of Centre for Social Studies, a Surat-based autonomous social science research institute supported by the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) and the government of Gujarat.
Meanwhile, the Census figures also reveal that among the Scheduled Castes in Gujarat, there are 9,930 married persons (3,945 males and 5,985 females) in the age group of 10-14 years. Of these, 469 are widowed, 197 are separated and 104 divorced.
Surprisingly, there are more number of married SC teenagers (5,523) in the urban areas compared to the rural (4,407), while child marriages seem to be more prevalent among SCs like Bhambi, Valmiki and Vankar.
The figures of child marriages in Gujarat are much higher if the next age bracket of 15-19 years is taken into consideration, especially for males, whose marriageable age is 21 years. There are over 37,000 married males among the ST population, while there are over 10,000 SC married males in the age group of 15-19 years.
“The Census figures show that the state government and the society at large has not been able to root out the problem of child marriages among STs and SCs. Though the tribals — who constitute 15 percent of the state’s total population — are used extensively as labour in development activities of the state, education and modern intervention still elude them,” says Dr Gaurang Jani, sociologist and senior lecturer at Department of Sociology, Gujarat University.
Talking about the trend where child marriages are seen among SCs living in urban areas, Jani says,”In the last couple of decades, a number of SCs groups have migrated to urban centres. However, they still remain strongly rooted to their caste equations. Most of them still strictly marry within their sub-caste and face a lot of social pressures to get married early.”
Frustrated by poor state of roads, Ludhiana residents invite PM Modi to visit their colonies