Even as a Bill to make child marriage void in India is pending before the cabinet, the National Human Rights Commission’s (NHRC) core group on child marriage has, in its report to be submitted to the Ministry of Women and Child Development this week, recommended that the Right to Education must be extended to all students up to the age of 18 years so as to prevent child marriage. The NHRC has based its recommendation on research that shows a strong correlation between a girl child’s education level and age of marriage, with better education levels showing lesser likelihood of her being married early.
A report released by the apex child rights body National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) on Tuesday shows that being out of school at 15 years is a strong predictor of early marriage. The finding is based on analysis of National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 4 data (2015-16) for determining prevalence of child marriage among girls in the 15-19 years age group.
NHRC Secretary General Ambuj Sharma, who released the report on Tuesday, said, “The NHRC had recently formed a core group on child marriage. In our report, we have noted that a necessary step to prevent early marriage is to make education free and compulsory for all children up to the age of 18 years. Accordingly, the Right to Education Act must be amended so that it is applicable up to class 14 instead of class 8 right now.”
The report, ‘India child marriage and teenage pregnancy’, compiled by NCPCR and the NGO Young Lives India, shows that in almost all states, the completion rate of secondary schooling is significantly higher among unmarried girls in the 15-19 years age group. The report shows that in the 15-19 age group of married girls, 30 per cent have never received any education, 21.9 per cent have got primary education, 10 per cent have secondary schooling while only 2.4 per cent have higher education.
Among states, in Bihar, which has a child marriage prevalence far above the national average, the completion rate of secondary education among girls who married before 18 years is 51 per cent, followed by Delhi and Rajasthan at 54 per cent and 57 per cent, respectively. “There is a strong correlation between educational attainment of girls and early child marriage. There is also a strong association between parents’ low aspirations for child’s education and teenage marriage,” said Renu Singh from Young Lives. The data also showed that 32 per cent of married girls aged 13 to 19 years had their first child when they were still in their teenage. NCPCR Chairperson Stuti Kacker cited the example of Karnataka, which has made child marriage null and void.
The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 doesn’t invalidate child marriage but only gives the contracting parties the option of annulling it within two years of becoming adult or through a guardian in case they are still minors. The WCD ministry’s proposal, seeking to make make child marriage ‘void ab initio’, is pending approval of the Union cabinet for a while now.