New Delhi: Women are marrying late, a fact that may not come as a big surprise given that focus of women has shifted towards education and getting jobs to become financially independent rather than getting married early.
But interestingly, the trend has reversed for some men who are marrying early, according to data by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) conducted by the government across 13 states and two Union Territories. The survey was released late on Tuesday. The NFHS 2015-16 is the fourth round of the survey. The previous or the third round of NFHS survey was done in 2005-06.
In Goa, for instance, 10.6% of the men in the age group of 25-29 years married before 21 years of age, an increase from 7.2% in the previous survey. Tamil Nadu and Tripura also reflected this trend. Around 17% of the men married before they attained the age of 21 in Tamil Nadu, as per NFHS-4 compared to 14% of the men who married early 10 years ago. In Tripura, 22% of the men married before 21 years, as against 19% earlier.
To be sure, data from other states like Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal shows that the number of men marrying before 21 years is declining. However, the rate of decline is not very steep as compared to the sharp fall in women marrying before the age of 18 years.
In Bihar, less than 40% of the women in the age group of 20-24 years were married when they were under-aged, as per data collected in NFHS-4, a sharp fall from 60% women marrying before attaining 18 years of age in 2005-06. In contrast, 40% of the men in the states were married before reaching 21 years of age, data from NFHS-4 showed, as against 47% in NFHS-3.
In Madhya Pradesh, while 30% of the women married before reaching 18 years of age, almost 40% of the men married before reaching 21 years old, as against 53% and 60%, respectively in 2005-06.
Haryana is another state which has seen a sharp improvement. Less than 19% of the women marry before reaching the age of 18 years now, as compared to almost 40% 10 years ago, and more than 31% of the men are marrying early now as compared to 42% earlier.
However, still a lot needs to be done, pointed out analysts, as in at least seven states that were part of the survey, more than one-fourth of the female population is forced into child marriage.
Manisha Priyam, a New Delhi-based political analyst, said fall in child marriages of women is indicative of the increasing awareness among women and is one of the key trends reflecting women empowerment.
“It is a reflection of the way women are treated in society. It is showing that girls are able to hold out and say I will not marry early and will instead study and do a job. And society is also not able to force them marry early,” she said.
Unicef, in a 2013 publication, said that child marriage affects all social groups across India but it is more common in rural than urban areas and among marginalized and economically vulnerable communities. “In India, almost half of all girls marry before the legal age of 18 years. This rate is even higher in some states such as Bihar, Rajasthan and Jharkhand where 6 in 10 girls marry as children. Social norms and traditions governing gender roles in which girls are seen as a liability and having limited economic and social value continue to persist. This combined with notions of family honour, the persistent practice of dowry and poverty sustain the custom of child marriage in India as families are unwilling to break with tradition and the community,” it said.