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Kounteya Sinha,TNN | Mar 1, 2012, 02.12 AM IST
NEW DELHI: Modern India continues to be plagued by social and health ills like child marriage, early motherhood and domestic violence.
Latest data in the "State of the World's Children report 2012" released by Unicef on Wednesday shows that almost 22% women in India, who are now aged between 20 and 24 years gave birth to a child before they turned 18.
Almost 45 among every 1,000 births are born to mothers in the 15-19 age bracket. Shockingly, around 57% of male adolescents (aged 15-19) and 53% of female adolescents thought a husband was justified in beating up their wives under certain circumstances.
Only 35% adolescent males (aged 15-19) and 19% adolescent females have a comprehensive knowledge of HIV. Almost 33% of children under five years in urban India and 46% in rural India are underweight.
Around two in four people in urban India and one in five in rural settings use improved sanitation facilities. India (46) also figures among the 50 worst nations with highest under-five mortality rate.
Almost one in three newborns is born with low birth weight, with less than 50% children being breastfed by their mothers.
Around 43% of children under five years are underweight, with 16% being severely undernourished and 48% children stunted. Only half the households are consuming iodized salt.
Contrary to popular belief, Karin Hulshof, UNICEF representative to India, said the report shows how a child growing up in an urban poor environment has similar challenges as a child in rural areas like health, nutrition, access to water and sanitation, education and protection.
"A child born in a slum in urban India is as likely to die before her or his first birthday, to become underweight or anaemic or to be married off before her 18th, as a child in rural India. Unfortunately for the urban poor child, the situation is most of the time not as visible and gets diluted by a much rosier picture of urban life. Great inequities are found within towns and cities, where great opportunity and great deprivation exist side by side," Hulshof said.
According to Unicef, more than 40% of the world's child marriages still occur in India. Worldwide, more than 60 million women between 20 and 24 years were married before they turned 18.
"Child brides become mothers much before their bodies are physically mature," Unicef said.
The issue was also taken up recently by the World Health Organization's executive board meeting in Geneva. According to WHO, half the girls in early marriage live in south-east Asia. According to the National Family Health Survey, about 10 million girls are married each year before the age of 18 worldwide — one third of them live in India. Child marriage is prohibited by law in India, with the minimum age of marriage being 18 for girls and 21 for boys. However the latest available government survey found 48% of women (aged 20-24) were married or are in union before the age of 18, and almost one in five was married or in union before she turned 15.
India introduced laws against child marriage in 1929 and set the legal age for marriage at 12 years. It was increased to 18 years in 1978.