Instances of Child Marriage Down in India, Up in Sub-Shaharan Africa

WILLS POINT, Texas – “Child marriage is one of the most worrisome problems in Asia. Boys and especially girls, who are supposed to play, learn and live a free life are married off at a very young age, and this not only affects their freedom but also takes a severe physical and mental toll on these young kids.” (The Better India)

UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Agency released a report on 06 March that indicated that the number of child marriages around the globe has been reduced by 25 million over the decade from 2006 to 2016.

In its 2006 report, the UN agency reported 47 percent of girls in India get married before they turn 18 years of age. The report released this week indicates that number has declined to 27 percent in India.

More than a few other countries reported much greater percentages of underage marriages. However, the reduction in India has made a major, positive impact on both South Asia and overall global numbers since the country’s population accounts 20 percent of the world’s adolescents.

The downside is that the 27 percent constitutes roughly 1.5 million adolescent Indian girls still becoming child brides. UNICEF estimates that about 650 million women are alive today who were married as child brides. It calculates that 12 million child marriages occur globally each year.

The elimination of child marriages by 2030 is one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

UNICEF representative Anju Malhotra observed, “Given the life-altering impact child marriage has on a young girl’s life, any reduction is welcome news, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

While India is heading in the right direction,  the agency will be shifting some of its attention to sub-Saharan Africa where girls in child marriages have risen from 20% to more than 33% during the reporting decade.

While recognizing advances in India, officials understand that child marriages often go unreported, particularly in poverty-stricken and tradition-bound areas because neither the parents nor the groom is inclined to complain. The minor child is likely in no position to do so.

The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006 made child marriage illegal and punishable by fines and imprisonment. However, although such marriages were declared “voidable,” the law still recognized them as valid. Officials, therefore, have seen the law as “toothless” when it comes to enforcement.

The Union Ministry for Women and Child Development (WCD) is the highest authority for “formulation and administration of the rules and regulations and laws relating to women and child development in India.” The ministry has announced that it will further amend regulations against child marriage by declaring them “void ab initio.” This means that such marriages are void from the start. The measure has been approved by Minister Maneka Gandhi and is now being vetted law ministry before being moved to the cabinet.

The WCD proposal is expected to be looked upon favorably and continue to enhance India’s efforts to achieve the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.


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