NEW DELHI :
Government is considering amendments to Prevention of Child Marriage Act to make reporting of cases of child marriages mandatory for the concerned agencies, Smriti Irani, Union Minister of Women & Child Development (WCD) said on Tuesday.
The number of cases of pregnancies in girls under 18 years is as high as 21% and children born from child marriages are more prone to undernourishment, she said. Irani was talking at event related to POSHAN Abhiyan.
"Currently, reporting of child marriage is not mandatory. Such as in POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act), in which reporting of sexual offences cases is mandatory, we are looking at these kind of interventions in the child marriage Act itself and discussing the possibility of amending it. As in POCSO, as there is more awareness, the number of cases increased. We want something similar in the Child Marriage Act. If we do this, it (child marriage) will get reported," Irani said.
Currently in India, the legal age for marriage in India for girls is 18 years and 21 years for boys.
Public health experts and scientific studies have correlated early marriage and pregnancy with poor health outcomes for mothers as well as babies alike.
According to report published in the journal Lancet Child and Adolescent Health in May 2019, children born to teenage mothers are more likely to be undernourished than those born to adult mothers. The study titled--Social, biological and programmatic factors link adolescent pregnancy to early childhood under nutrition: a path analysis of India’s 2016 National Family and Health Survey (NHFS-4)—was done by researchers at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
India is home to more stunted children than any other country and is one of the ten countries with the largest burden of teenage pregnancy, according to the government. Although marriage before the age of 18 is illegal in India, the NFHS-4 (2015-2016) revealed that 27% of girl children were married before their 18th birthday and further, 31% of married Indian women gave birth by the age of 18.
“Malnutrition is not restricted to women and children belonging to the poor strata of society, many children from affluent families living in urban areas are equally afflicted with malnutrition. Proper nutrition depends on selection of nutritious food for children, expectant mothers and lactating women," said Irani.
WCD ministry in association with NITI Aayog and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is also examining measures to strengthen the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme in order to ensure that targeted children are benefitted.
“Malnutrition is a big challenge and it has to be tackled successfully if India has to grow at the rate of 8-9% annually. There is lack of convergence at the field level that can be addressed by capacity building, leveraging technology and real time monitoring of the schemes being implemented to tackle the problem of malnutrition," said Amitabh Kant CEO, NITI Aayog.