Of young brides and ‘ageless’ grooms

The number of child brides and grooms in India has risen by 10 million over the past decade, and – in what could be a more worrying trend – more under-age women are now marrying much older men, an analysis of Census data by Business Standard shows.

According to Census 2011, India had five million child brides (women marrying under 18 years of age), against 380,000 in 2001 – an increase of 4.56 million in 10 years. Similarly, the number of child grooms (men marrying before turning 21) surged to 6.71 million from 620,800 in 2001 – a rise of over six million.

The Census data also shed light on the age mismatch between brides and grooms. In 2011, every fifth married woman was in the 15-19 age group, while less than five per cent of married men were in this age bracket. In the 20-24 years age group, the share of women already married was 70 per cent, against a mere 30 per cent for men. This implies a significantly high number of women marrying men out of their age brackets. (WIDENING GAP)

A study commissioned by the now-remodelled Planning Commission had in 2011 found historical, social, cultural, and economic reasons for child marriages. Parents, in most cases, did not seek children’s consent for marriages, it said.

A Unicef report on South Asia reported half the women in the region were married before turning 18 – one in every five before 15 years. The report said the rate of child marriages in South Asia was the highest globally. Within the region, the rate was the highest in Bangladesh (two of every three girls were married before turning 18), followed by India, Nepal and Afghanistan.