Nearly 12 million Indian children were married before the age of 10 – 84% of them Hindu and 11% Muslim – reveals an IndiaSpend analysis of recently released census data.
To put it in context, this number is equivalent to Jammu and Kashmir’s population.
According to the data, pertaining to 2011, as many of 7.84 million (65%) married children were female, reinforcing the fact that girls are significantly more disadvantaged; eight out of 10 illiterate children who were married were also girls.
The data further reveal that 72% of all Hindu girls married before the age of 10 were in rural areas, as compared to 58.5% Muslim girls, with higher levels of education correlating with later marriages.
IndiaSpend had earlier reported that Jain women marry the latest (at a median age of 20.8 years), followed by Christian women (20.6 years) and Sikh women (19.9 years). Hindu and Muslim women have the lowest median age at first marriage (16.7 years), based on a seven-state study by Nirantar, a Delhi-based advocacy.
Women from urban areas, on average, marry more than two years later than their rural counterparts, IndiaSpend reported earlier.
The report also noted that incidence of teenage pregnancy and motherhood is nine times higher among women with no education than among women with 12 or more years of education.
80% of illiterate children married before 10 are girls
As many as 5.4 million (44%) married children under 10 were illiterate – 80% of them female – indicating that lower levels of education correlate with early marriage.
As many as 1,403 females have never attended any educational institution for every 1,000 males who have not, IndiaSpend reported earlier.
In developing countries, girls with less access to quality education are more likely to marry early, argued Quentin Wodon, an adviser in the World Bank’s education department.
Better and safer job opportunities for girls may also reduce child marriage rates, as might better access to basic infrastructure (water, electricity), which frees up time spent on domestic chores for schooling, wrote Wodon.
30% girls, 42% boys married before legal ages
The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act states that females in India cannot marry before the age of 18, and a males before 21.
A Muslim girl can marry when she attains puberty or completes 15 years of age, according to Muslim Personal Law, the Gujarat High Court and Delhi High Court noted in different judgments.
As many as 102 million girls (30% of female population) were married before the age of 18 in 2011; the number was 119 million in 2001 (44% of female population), a decrease of 14 percentage points over the decade.
Among boys, 125 million were married before 21 years of age (42% of male population) in 2011; the number was 120 million in 2001 (49% of male population), a decrease of 7% over the decade.
This article first appeared on IndiaSpend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.