While cultural factors still play a role in child marriages, poverty and lack of education exacerbates it, suggests research
Mumbai: Greater awareness and stronger laws have meant that India has come a long way in tackling child marriage. However, despite the improvement, child marriage still persists partly because the economic status and education levels of women are major determinants of when a girl marries, suggests research.
Sanjay Kumar of the United Nations Population Fund uses age-level data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) to show that the prevalence of child marriages has decreased from 58% in the 1970s to 21% in 2015-16 (NFHS-4). The median age of marriage for women is also increasing. In 2005-06, the median age of the first marriage for women was 17 years. In 2015-16, it was 19.
A big determinant of the age of marriage is education. Around 45% of women with no education and 40% with primary education married before the age of 18, according to NFHS-4. This decreases with higher education attainment. A one year increase in a girl’s education can delay her marriage by 0.4 years, finds Kumar.
In terms of economic status, women from poor households tend to marry earlier. While more than 30% of women from the lowest two wealth quintiles were married by the age of 18, the corresponding figure in the richest quintile was 8%. Consequently, child marriages are more prevalent in rural areas and among Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
The author suggests India needs greater granular analysis to better target efforts against child marriage. As part of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, India has promised to eliminate child marriage by 2030. To achieve this, there should be greater emphasis on girl’s education and making education more accessible to and affordable for girls from poor families, suggests the author.