Incidence of child marriage in rural areas alarming

NEW DELHI, May 26: The mean age for marriage of girls in the country has improved from 19.3 years in 1990 to 21.0 years in 2010, but 47.3 per cent of all young women aged 20-24 are married by the age of 18. The latest figures with the Registrar General of India were presented at a national consultation for ways to prevent child marriage. The incidence of child marriage in rural areas was found to be alarming as it stands at 52 per cent when compared to urban average of 28 per cent. These numbers are shown to be particularly high in states such as West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. The purpose of the national consultations, held by the Ministry of Women and Child Development here yesterday with various states, NGOs, experts and UN bodies, was to gather collective wisdom that could inform formulation of a holistic policy and national strategy in this regard. The presenters discussed that in many rural areas, the lack of alternative schooling when formal secondary school facilities are unavailable has contributed to higher incidence of child marriage. Moreover, lack of drinking water and proper toilets for girls has also been found to prevent girls from enrolling in schools due to which they become vulnerable to early marriage between the 14-18 age group.It was also also found that there was the low rate of registration of child marriages possibly due the prevailing norm in various communities where this is an acceptable, and there was lack of substantial evidence in many cases arguably due to the support of the families and communities. The participants discussed the difficulty faced by the state enforcement officials and the NGOs to prevent child marriage due to several reasons.There were impediments in prosecuting the families due to their consent; extreme low rate of registration of cases and almost negligible cases of punishments; huge gap between reported statistics of child marriage in the country and the rate of registration of child marriages with NCRB due to all these reasons. There was also lack of congruence among the extant laws and acts; poor deterrent measures and weak implementation of these measures. The participants emphasised the need for reconciliation between customary laws and the Prevention of Child Marriage Act 2006, and for declaration of primacy of the specific act, besides the need for making registration of the marriage compulsory which will act as a deterrent.(PTI)

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