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Three out of five child marriages end in teenage pregnancy: Study

Out of four states, Andra Pradesh recorded the highest percentage of child marriages

Minor married couple A minor married couple

Child marriage is still regarded as an important custom in society for at least 59 per cent of parents and in-laws in the country. Only 16 per cent of parents and 34 per cent of child brides or grooms are aware of the negative consequences of child marriage, revealed a study conducted by NGO Child Rights and You (CRY).  

According to the study, child marriage has a detrimental impact on girls' sexual and reproductive health (SRH), as a majority of them become mothers before attaining adulthood, thus getting exposed to high-risk pregnancies. 

More than half of the women respondents – 51 per cent of brides with at least two children - stated that the gap between their first and second child was less than two years, while 59 per cent of brides, that is three of every five, had experienced teenage pregnancy. 

The study report was released by CRY on Monday, the occasion of Children’s Day and Child Safety Week (November 14 to 20). 

The study used an exhaustive range of quantitative data and insights gathered from research conducted in 40 villages of eight blocks from four districts namely Chittoor, Chandouli, Parbhani, and Kandhamalin the states of Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Odisha respectively. 

It also showed that 17 per cent and 16 per cent of child brides reported having low birth-weight babies for their first and second child, respectively.

The study highlighted that social norms and practices majorly influenced the perception of under-age marriage in the society, while other factors contributing to child marriage are extreme poverty, forced migration and gender inequity.

Lack of educational opportunities due to issues of accessibility, availability and affordability pushes girls to drop out of school, leaving them far more vulnerable to child marriage, in comparison to boys.

Fear of girls eloping or having 'love affair' leading to premarital sex and pregnancy emerged as dominant reasons why parents prefer to marry off their daughters as soon as they reach puberty. Lower dowry, the patriarchal construct of ‘women's honour’, finding grooms and adaptation by girls being easier in new households too are reasons behind high prevalence of child marriage – the study suggests. 

Elaborating on the objective of the study, CRY CEO Puja Marwaha, said, “It aimed to understand the prevailing knowledge, attitudes, practices and social behaviour regarding child marriage, as well as to document nuanced initiatives taken at the community levels to challenge child marriage practices. The study also tried to map the convergence of community and government systems under the available provisions and practices to determine the scope for synergies at both ends.”

Child marriages still prevalent in study areas

The study found that cases of child marriages are still prevalent in areas of Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha, even though there has been some decline in the number of cases over the past few years, as observed by the duty bearers and community members. 

However, in the study areas of Maharashtra, there was a discrepancy in the responses of duty bearers and community members, with duty bearers asserting that cases had decreased. Meanwhile, the community members, particularly adolescent girls, responded that in some clusters, people managed to arrange child marriages in greater numbers than before.

Comparative analysis of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) (2015-16) and NFHS-5 (2019-21) done by CRY shows that child marriage cases have indeed declined over the past five years both at the national level and in the four research states. 

Andhra Pradesh has recorded the highest percentage of child marriage cases followed by Maharashtra, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh. However, the pace of decline in child marriage is comparatively slow in Odisha over the past five years. 

As per NFHS-4 and NFHS-5 data, the percentage of women within the age group of 15-19 years who were already mothers or pregnant is highest in Andhra Pradesh (12.5 per cent). While the other three states have been showing a declining trend of child marriage and teenage pregnancy in the past five years, Andhra Pradesh has shown a reverse trend.

“These findings imply that public health emergencies such as pandemics and other calamities may have a significant impact on the increasing vulnerabilities, putting many children, particularly girls, at risk of marrying at an early age,” Marwaha said. 

Talking about the way forward, she said, “Strengthening village-level child protection mechanisms by the government and the civil society organisations, along with sustained efforts to alleviate poverty and social inequality by creating livelihood options are some of the ways which will go a long way in to address child marriage.”

She also highlighted that increasing girls’ access to education can play a key role in reducing child marriage. “Study findings revealed that 86% of child brides who had ever attended school dropped out after marriage. Ensuring that girls are retained in schools till they complete 18 years will be a strategic step in preventing child marriage”, she added.

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