In a ruling that could act as a greater deterrent in preventing girl-child marriages, the Supreme Court last week said a man would be committing rape if he engages in sexual intercourse with his minor wife, and raised the age ceiling for the purpose of defining ‘minor wife’ from 15 years to 18 years.

According to Census 2011, the nine-year period to 2011 saw 15.3 million girls being married before they reached the age of 18 years, which amounts to child marriage under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. This is about 20% of all females married during that period.

Map 1 shows how India’s 640 districts fare on this count, with each dot on the map representing a district. In 238 of these districts, the incidence of girl-child marriages is 20-30% (orange dots) or above 30% (red dots), and these are mostly in Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand.

Six of the 10 worst districts are in Rajasthan, led by Bhilwara (55%) and Chittaurgarh (54%). Also, even in states where the incidence was generally below 20%, there were a handful of districts where the incidence was higher: for example, Malappuram in Kerala or Gandhinagar in Gujarat.

Education is both a cause and an effect. Map 2 shows the percentage of girl-child brides in these 640 districts who are illiterate—cannot read and write in any language, as per Census 2011. Of these 15.3 million girl-child brides, 5.7 million (37%) were illiterate. In 394 districts, more than 30% of girl-child brides were illiterate, and these districts being scattered across all states except Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The worst districts were Alirajpur (86% of child brides) and Jhabua (81%) in Madhya Pradesh, and Ramban in Jammu and Kashmir (80%).

Among religious communities, the incidence of girl-child marriages is significantly higher among Hindus and Muslims than Christians and Sikhs. State-level data shows that the range is higher among Muslims than Hindus, as is the median value for states.

Data source: Census 2011; all data for nine-year period to 2011

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