New Delhi: A third of the world’s child brides are in India, with about half of Indian women getting married before they turned 18, the United Nations Population Fund or UNFPA has said. As many as 47 per cent of girls in India below 18 are married, UN data says.
Child marriage is a violation of child rights, which has a negative impact on growth, health, mental and emotional development, and education opportunities. It also affects society as a whole since it “reinforces a cycle of poverty and perpetuates gender discrimination, illiteracy and malnutrition as well as high infant and maternal mortality rates,” says UNICEF.
In rural India, the practice continues despite the prohibition of Child Marriage Act due to strong social sanction. States like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan witness most of the cases.
A UNFPA statement says adolescents form 21 per cent of India’s population, of which girls constitute 48 per cent – which is around 115 million.
But despite improvements on several key development indicators, “there are still issues which limit adolescents, especially girls, from achieving their full potential,” the statement read.
“Around 14 per cent of girls aged 15-19 years are illiterate, and 73 per cent never get to complete more than 10 years of school,” UNFPA said. “Facts like these makes the global theme of this World Population Day, ‘Investing in Teenage Girls,’ especially relevant and important for India.”
The World Population day is observed on July 11, which seeks to raise awareness about global population issues.
“The new development agenda calls on us to leave no one behind,” said the UNFPA, citing Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin.
Osotimehin emphasised that leaders and communities must focus on and stand up for the human rights of the most marginalised teenage girls, particularly those who are poor, out of school, exploited, or subjected to harmful traditional practices, including child marriage.
“Marginalised girls are vulnerable to poor reproductive health and more likely to become mothers while still children themselves. They have a right to understand and control their own bodies and shape their own lives,” Osotimehin said.