Mass Child Marriage being performed in the town of Alwar of Rajasthan, India. Child marriages are illegal in India, but are still performed in some places, due to local religious and cultural beliefs which support and justify the cultural practice. The practice of child marriage in rural India is deeply rooted in cultural values and grounded in social structures. And despite laws that prohibit child marriage, the practice is still extremely prevalent in many regions. Though the statistics are contentious, it is estimated that in some parts of India, like the state of Rajasthan, nearly 80 percent of the marriages are among girls under the age of fifteen.
Child marriage is a common practice in many countries around the world, however it is especially prevalent in India, where more than one third of all child brides live. According to UNICEF, 47% of girls are married by 18 years of age, and 18% are married by 15 years of age. These marriages are often performed without the consent of the girls involved in the marriage. Indian law has made child marriage illegal, but it is still widely practiced across the nation. The highest rates are seen particularly in the rural states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh.
It affects both boys and girls, but statistics show that girls are far more likely to be forced into a child marriage than boys; however the percentage of girls forced into child marriage in India has declined in recent years. Many consider child marriage to be a human rights violation, resulting in death, health problems, poverty, violence, and lack of education.
Child marriage, also known as Bal Vivaha, is believed to have begun during the medieval ages of India. At this time, the political atmosphere was turbulent and ruled by Delhi Sultans in an absolute monarchy government. The sultans had an extreme commitment to their religion and forced many to convert, causing socio-cultural unrest, and Hindu women suffered the most. These days of the Delhi Sultans produced practices such as child marriage and lowered the status of women even further. They invented the ill omen of giving birth to a female baby and believed that young unmarried girls caused disaster. Child marriage became a widespread cultural practice with various reasons to justify it, and many marriages were performed while the girl was still an infant. The caste system is also believed to have contributed to the growth of child marriage. Castes, which are based on birth and heredity, do not allow two people to marry if they are from different castes. This system was threatened by young people’s emotions and desires to marry outside their caste, so out of necessity, child marriage was created to ensure the caste system continued.
Apni Beti, Apna Dhan (ABAD), which translates to “Our Daughter, Our Wealth,” is one of India’s first conditional cash transfer programs dedicated to delaying young marriages across the nation. In 1994, the Indian government implemented this program in the state of Haryana. On the birth of a mother’s first, second, or third child, they are set to receive 500 rupees, or 11 USD, within the first 15 days to cover their post-delivery needs. Along with this, the government gives 2,500 rupees, or 55 USD, to invest in a long-term savings bond in the daughter’s name, which can be later cashed for 25,000 rupees, or 550 USD, after her 18 birthday. She can only receive the money if she is not married. Anju Malhotra, an expert on child marriage and adolescent girls said of this program, “No other conditional cash transfer has this focus of delaying marriage… It’s an incentive to encourage parents to value their daughters.”
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