Child rights

Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad among places with highest incidence of child marriages in India

Rights activists suspect migration could be the reason.

That a large number of urban areas feature in the list of districts with the highest incidence of child marriages in India may seem counter-intuitive but that is what an analysis of Census data shows. New pockets of child marriage have emerged and these are in cities.

Young Lives India, the India chapter of an international research project studying childhood poverty, and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, the country’s apex child rights body, used data from Census 2011 to draw up a list of 70 districts, spread across 13 states, that have the highest incidence of child marriage in India. On the list are the urban areas of Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh, Hyderabad and Rangareddy in undivided Andhra Pradesh, and Davangere in Karnataka.

The 70 districts are home to 14% of the country’s population but account for 21% of the child marriages.

The state with most districts on the list is Maharashtra with 16. These include Mumbai, Mumbai Suburban, Thane and Pune. In all, the number of child marriages in the state has gone up over the decade since Census 2001. In Bhandara, for instance, the number of girls married before they turned 18 rose fivefold. The number of boys married before turning 21 grew 20 times.

In India, marriage of girls under 18 and boys under 21 is considered child marriage and is outlawed. But, as the Supreme Court judge AK Sikri explained, conflicts between the law banning it and other laws governing various aspects of life – marriage, guardianship, the penal code itself – have made the ban, first imposed in 1929, difficult to enforce.

Small gains

The picture is not all gloomy, though. The state with the second highest number of districts on the list is Rajasthan with 13. However, in all but one district – Banswara, and that too for girls only – the number of cases decreased over the decade between the two censuses.

In fact, over these 10 years, there was a decline nationally in the incidence of both girls and boys getting married before attaining the legal age. For girls, it dropped marginally from 2.5% of the population in 2001 to 2.4% in 2011. But the drop was courtesy rural areas. In urban areas, the figure unexpectedly rose, from 1.78% in 2001 to 2.45% in 2011. In absolute numbers, that is 5.1 million girls married below the legal age.

For boys, the drop in incidence was sharper, from 9.6% in 2001 to 2.5% a decade later. In this case, the drop was in both rural and urban areas.

Besides, as Renu Singh, country director of Young Lives, said, there was no case of children under 10 being married in 2011, unlike in 2001. So, the researchers looked at two age bands – 10-14 years and 15 to under 18 years for girls; 10-14 years and 15 to under 21 years for boys. They found 2.2% children in the 10-14 age group were married – 2.9% girls and 1.6% boys.

The other states with districts on the list are Andhra Pradesh, Assam and Karnataka with two each; Arunachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and West Bengal with three; Uttar Pradesh with four; Gujarat and Bihar, six; Madhya Pradesh, nine. Haryana had just one.

In Gujarat’s Anand district, Karnataka’s Davangere and Bengal’s Dakshin Dinajpur, the incidence of child marriage has increased despite a drop in population.

Worrying trend

The decline in numbers, however small, is encouraging. But it is worrying, as Singh said, that “new pockets in urban districts are emerging with high incidences”.

Although reluctant to hazard a guess, Singh suspected migration had a role to play in this. “It could be one reason for the increase in urban areas, especially those around metropolitan cities,” she said. “The other reason could be concerns about the safety of children. Parents living in slums worry about their daughters’ safety.”

Shantha Sinha, former chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, agreed. She said a 2016 study on the lives of girls aged 15 to 19 in Telangana by the MV Foundation found that “the mobility of girls is highly restricted in urban areas” and the pretext of safety is frequently used to impose control. “The neighbourhood is still very strange to a family that has just migrated from the village,” she said. “The sense of community is missing. Families feel insecure and end up exercising even greater control over girls.”

In the urban setting, concerns families carry over from the village are magnified and marriage is often seen as a solution. “They constantly fear their children will elope,” said Sinha. Parents in both rural and urban areas also fear their children will choose partners from other castes. “Then, adults and children are unable to handle adolescence, frequently mistaking natural attraction for a serious relationship and dealing with it harshly,” Sinha added.

This being the situation, rights groups and the government now have to fight child marriage in these new settings, said Rakesh Srivastava, secretary, ministry of women and child development. “If we cannot control this, the gains that we have made will be lost,” he added.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Do you really need to use that plastic straw?

The hazards of single-use plastic items, and what to use instead.

In June 2018, a distressed whale in Thailand made headlines around the world. After an autopsy it’s cause of death was determined to be more than 80 plastic bags it had ingested. The pictures caused great concern and brought into focus the urgency of the fight against single-use plastic. This term refers to use-and-throw plastic products that are designed for one-time use, such as takeaway spoons and forks, polythene bags styrofoam cups etc. In its report on single-use plastics, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has described how single-use plastics have a far-reaching impact in the environment.

Dense quantity of plastic litter means sights such as the distressed whale in Thailand aren’t uncommon. Plastic products have been found in the airways and stomachs of hundreds of marine and land species. Plastic bags, especially, confuse turtles who mistake them for jellyfish - their food. They can even exacerbate health crises, such as a malarial outbreak, by clogging sewers and creating ideal conditions for vector-borne diseases to thrive. In 1988, poor drainage made worse by plastic clogging contributed to the devastating Bangladesh floods in which two-thirds of the country was submerged.

Plastic litter can, moreover, cause physiological harm. Burning plastic waste for cooking fuel and in open air pits releases harmful gases in the air, contributing to poor air quality especially in poorer countries where these practices are common. But plastic needn’t even be burned to cause physiological harm. The toxic chemical additives in the manufacturing process of plastics remain in animal tissue, which is then consumed by humans. These highly toxic and carcinogenic substances (benzene, styrene etc.) can cause damage to nervous systems, lungs and reproductive organs.

The European Commission recently released a list of top 10 single-use plastic items that it plans to ban in the near future. These items are ubiquitous as trash across the world’s beaches, even the pristine, seemingly untouched ones. Some of them, such as styrofoam cups, take up to a 1,000 years to photodegrade (the breakdown of substances by exposure to UV and infrared rays from sunlight), disintegrating into microplastics, another health hazard.

More than 60 countries have introduced levies and bans to discourage the use of single-use plastics. Morocco and Rwanda have emerged as inspiring success stories of such policies. Rwanda, in fact, is now among the cleanest countries on Earth. In India, Maharashtra became the 18th state to effect a ban on disposable plastic items in March 2018. Now India plans to replicate the decision on a national level, aiming to eliminate single-use plastics entirely by 2022. While government efforts are important to encourage industries to redesign their production methods, individuals too can take steps to minimise their consumption, and littering, of single-use plastics. Most of these actions are low on effort, but can cause a significant reduction in plastic waste in the environment, if the return of Olive Ridley turtles to a Mumbai beach are anything to go by.

To know more about the single-use plastics problem, visit Planet or Plastic portal, National Geographic’s multi-year effort to raise awareness about the global plastic trash crisis. From microplastics in cosmetics to haunting art on plastic pollution, Planet or Plastic is a comprehensive resource on the problem. You can take the pledge to reduce your use of single-use plastics, here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of National Geographic, and not by the Scroll editorial team.