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Kounteya Sinha,TNN Feb 10, 2012, 01.28 AM IST
NEW DELHI: The percentage of women getting married before the legal age of 18 has fallen by 46% between 2005 and 2009.
However, nearly seven in 100 women are still getting married before they turn 18. Decline of incidents of under-aged brides have been almost similar in rural and urban India at around 45%. Nationally, the percentage of under-aged brides in 2009 varied from 0.4% in Jammu and Kashmir to 14.1% in Jharkhand.
While all states have seen a decline in under-aged brides, Kerala has earned the dubious distinction of being the only state that has seen a 50% increase in women getting married before they turn 18.
Jharkhand (14.1%), West Bengal (13.6%), Bihar (9.3%), Uttar Pradesh (8.9%) and Assam (8.8%) have the highest percentage of under-aged brides.
According to the Union health ministry's Family Welfare Statistics 2011, compiled by the Registrar General of India, for every woman aged below 18 getting married in urban centres, three women are doing so in rural areas. In percentage-wise decline, Jammu and Kashmir has seen the largest dip in under-aged brides in the recorded five years at 83%, followed by Chhattisgarh (78%), Andhra Pradesh (71%), Haryana (70%) and Madhya Pradesh (69%).
Maharashtra has seen a 57% decline in under-aged brides, Delhi (53%), Bihar (55%), Odisha (48%), Karnataka (44%) and Punjab (46%). States with lowest percentage of decline in under-aged brides since 2005 include West Bengal (14%), Rajasthan (23%), Jharkhand (27%), Tamil Nadu (29%), Gujarat (33%) and Uttar Pradesh (38%).
Actor and UNICEF goodwill ambassador Sharmila Tagore said, "Child marriage is entrenched in tradition and culture. But change is possible. Often, girls and their parents want to delay marriage but lack options. We must focus on giving girls viable alternatives to early marriage. Give adolescent girls knowledge and skills to negotiate with their parents and reject offers for marriage. Girls' education and economic independence are key solutions."
Unicef said, "More than 40% of the world's child marriages take place in India. Worldwide, more than 60 million women between 20 and 24 were married before they turned 18. Child brides become mothers much before their bodies are physically mature."
The issue was also taken up recently by the World Health Organization (WHO) at its executive board meeting in Geneva. The Indian delegation was headed by Union health secretary P K Pradhan. According to WHO, the latest international estimate indicate that worldwide more than 60 million women aged 20-24 years were married before 18 years. The extent of early marriage varies between countries and regions — the highest rates are found in West Africa followed by South Asia. WHO says about 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, and 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 survey found 48% of women aged 20-24 were married or are in union before 18 years, and almost one in five were married or in union before 15 years. While rates of child marriage are declining, the pace of change is slow and in some states prevalence rates remain over 60%. Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh have the highest rates of child marriage of girls in the country.
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.
* Under-aged brides are 37% likelier not to have used contraception before their first child was born
*They are seven times likelier to have three or more children, and three times likelier to have a repeat childbirth in less than 24 months
* They are also more than twice as likely to have multiple unwanted pregnancies, nearly 50% likelier to have an abortion and more than six times likelier to seek sterilization compared with counterparts who had married after 18 years
* Girls, who give birth before the age of 15, are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s
* If a mother is under 18 years, her infant's risk of dying in the first year of life is 60% greater than that of an infant born to a mother older than 19