by MD Tabrez Alam 17 September 2023
Child marriage is a grave violation of human rights that continues to persist, despite laws and regulations against it. Shockingly, one out of every five girls worldwide is either formally married or in an informal union before they turn 18. In the least developed countries, this number nearly doubles, with 36 percent of girls being married before the age of 18, and 10 percent married before the age of 15. Child marriage not only endangers the lives and health of young girls but also severely limits their prospects. One of the most devastating consequences of child marriage is the increased risk of complications in pregnancy or childbirth for young girls who are still adolescents. Many girls who are forced into child marriage become pregnant at a young age, putting their own lives at risk. These complications, unfortunately, lead to the death of many older adolescent girls, making it the leading cause of death among this age group. This article delves into the underlying reasons behind this alarming trend and discusses potential strategies to address this pressing issue.
The Concern for Jharkhand?
Jharkhand, a state in India known for its abundant mineral wealth, is facing a paradoxical situation. Despite its resources, the state’s population, especially when it comes to child marriage the state ranks at the top. Child marriage continues to be a significant concern in many parts of India, including the state of Jharkhand. Despite being outlawed for quite some time now, it is estimated that 27% of females aged 20-24 in India were married before the age of 18, with an alarming 7% getting married before the age of 15. This prevalence is even higher in South Asian and African countries. Although child marriages may be accepted norms within certain communities and some pregnancies resulting from these marriages might be planned, they pose multiple obstetric complications such as preterm labour, low birth weight infants, pregnancy loss, infant mortality rates, preeclampsia risk rises, and anaemia among other issues. According to the United Nations Population Fund, Jharkhand consistently ranks amongst the top three states in the country with the highest prevalence of child marriage, with an average rate of no less than 50% over the past decade. In 2020, a survey conducted by the office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, Ministry of Home Affairs, has shed light on two concerning issues prevalent in the Indian state of Jharkhand.
The survey revealed that the percentage of girls getting married before attaining the age of majority is alarmingly high, while incidents of violence related to witchcraft allegations remain distressingly common. These issues reflect the need for urgent interventions to protect the rights and well-being of women and girls in Jharkhand. According to estimates by UNICEF, in India alone, at least 1.5 million girls under the age of 18 are married each year. Additionally, around 16 percent of adolescent girls aged 15-19 are currently married. While there has been some progress in reducing the prevalence of child marriages in India, with the rate declining from 47 percent to 27 percent between 2005-2006 and 2015-2016, it is still alarmingly high. According to Paul Pintu and others, girls and young women who have achieved secondary and higher levels of education are less likely to enter marriage before the age of 18, in contrast to those who have not received an education. The international community also has a responsibility to support governments in their efforts to end child marriage. Funding and resources should be allocated to initiatives that address the root causes of child marriage and provide support to vulnerable girls and their families.
Child Marriage Rates
The survey discloses that 5.8% of girls in Jharkhand are married before they reach the age of majority. This percentage is significantly higher than the national average of 1.9%. Shockingly, Jharkhand and West Bengal are the only two states in India where more than half of the women are married before they turn 21 years old. In Jharkhand, child marriages account for 7.3% of marriages in rural areas and 3% in urban areas. The implications of child marriage are grave and widespread. Young girls forced into early marriages face numerous social, psychological, and health-related challenges, including limited access to education and increased vulnerability to domestic violence. The widespread prevalence of child marriage in Jharkhand calls for comprehensive measures aimed at preventing and eradicating this harmful practice.
In addition to the issue of child marriage, Jharkhand also grapples with recurring instances of violence linked to witchcraft allegations. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the number of individuals killed on allegations of practising witchcraft has been distressingly high in recent years. The figures are alarming: 32 such killings were reported in 2015, 27 in 2016, 19 in 2017, 18 in 2018, and 15 each in 2019 and 2020. The belief in witchcraft and superstitions surrounding it continue to plague various regions of India, including Jharkhand. Innocent individuals, especially women, become victims of brutal violence due to baseless allegations, often because they are vulnerable or socially marginalized. The persistence of witchcraft-related violence highlights the urgent need to educate communities and raise awareness about the dangers of such practices.
The purpose of this field visit in Jharkhand was to gather information on sociocultural aspects of child marriage and the author visited several districts including Palamu, Garhwa, Latehar, Giridih, Bokaro, Dhanbad, and Jamtara. During the visit, the researcher conducted interviews and interactions with various respondents. It was found that apart from factors such as poverty, illiteracy, family pressure, and lack of awareness, other important reasons were contributing to the prevalence of child marriage in Jharkhand. One significant factor was the fear of interaction or interrelation marriage. Respondents stated that they preferred early marriage for their children to prevent such intermarriages. Lower caste respondents also mentioned that early marriage allowed them to avoid paying a substantial dowry, as both parties were of the same social status. However, they acknowledged that once the boy secured a job, they would have to pay more as dowry. Despite the knowledge that legal action could be taken against those involved in child marriage, the respondents mentioned that the entire community protected them, ensuring that they faced no consequences.
Call for Action: Given the implications of child marriage and witchcraft-related violence, the government, civil society, and other stakeholders need to take immediate action. Several key measures can be undertaken to address these issues:
Strengthening laws: The government should review and strengthen existing legislation to provide more robust protection for victims of child marriage and witchcraft-related violence. Laws and policies must emphasize prevention, prosecution, and support for survivors. Awareness campaigns: Comprehensive awareness campaigns should be launched at the community level to challenge prevailing cultural norms and beliefs that perpetuate child marriage and witchcraft-related violence. Education and information on legal rights, health, and psychosocial support must be made accessible to vulnerable communities. Social and economic empowerment: Efforts should be made to provide equal education and opportunities for women and girls. Investment in skill development and income-generating programs can empower women economically, reducing their vulnerability to these harmful practices. Community engagement: Stakeholders, including local leaders, religious leaders, and community-based organizations, must actively engage with communities to challenge harmful practices, dispel myths, and promote gender equality and women’s rights.
The alarming rates of child marriage and witchcraft-related violence in Jharkhand demand immediate attention and action. The state, along with the central government and civil society organizations, must work collectively to eradicate these practices and ensure the safety, well-being, and fundamental rights of women and girls. By addressing these issues head-on, Jharkhand can take significant strides towards a future where every individual can live free from violence and discrimination, regardless of gender or social status. The reduction of child marriages in India has contributed significantly to the global decrease in this harmful practice. This decline can be attributed to a combination of factors, including increased literacy rates among mothers, improved access to education for girls, robust legislation against child marriage, and migration from rural areas to urban centres. These factors have played a vital role in raising awareness and empowering young girls, enabling them to resist child marriage. Promoting girls’ education has also played a crucial role in reducing child marriage rates. Increased rates of education among girls have empowered them to make informed choices about their lives, delaying marriage and pursuing their dreams. In addition to education, proactive government investments in adolescent girls and strong public messaging highlighting the illegality of child marriage and the harm it causes have also contributed to the decline in child marriage rates. However, despite these efforts, child marriage remains a serious issue that requires sustained attention and action from governments, civil society, and international organizations. It is crucial to continue investing in education and empowering young girls, providing them with the tools and resources to break free from cycles of poverty and gender inequality. Furthermore, comprehensive legislation and its effective enforcement are essential in combating child marriage. Governments must prioritize the implementation and enforcement of laws that prohibit child marriage, alongside providing support and services for those at risk and survivors of child marriage.
In a nutshell, child marriage is a gross violation of human rights that not only endangers the lives and health of young girls but also limits their prospects. While there has been progress in reducing the prevalence of child marriage, it remains a widespread issue that requires global attention and concerted efforts from governments, civil society, and international organizations. Investing in girls’ education, implementing, and enforcing legislation, and providing support to at-risk girls are all crucial steps in ending child marriage and ensuring a brighter future for young girls worldwide. The field visit provided valuable insights into the sociocultural factors influencing child marriage in Jharkhand. The findings highlight the need for awareness campaigns, education, and interventions to address these issues effectively and protect the rights and well-being of children in the region.
- Paul, P. (2020). Child Marriage Among Girls in India: Prevalence, Trends and Socio-Economic Correlates. Indian Journal of Human Development, 14(2), 304–319. https://doi.org/10.1177/0973703020950263
- (2020). Child Marriage. https://www.unfpa.org/child-marriage.
- (2020). Global Databases. https://data.unicef.org/resources/towards-ending-child-marriage/