Nearly 12 million Indian children were married before the age of 10, of whom 84% were Hindus and 11% Muslims, an analysis of recently released census data reveals. To put it in context, this number is equivalent to the population of Jammu and Kashmir.
Given that many of the 7.84 million (65%) child brides were girls, which reinforces the fact that girls are significantly more disadvantaged; eight out of 10 illiterate children who were married were also girls.
The data further reveals that 72% of all Hindu girls married before age 10 lived in rural areas compared to 58.5% of Muslim girls, with higher levels of education correlating with later marriage.
Jain women marry late (at a median age of 20.8 years), followed by Christian women (20.6 years) and Sikh women (19.9 years). Hindu and Muslim women have the lowest median age at first marriage (16.7 years), according to a report by Nirantar: A Center for Gender and Education – a Delhi-based advocacy group. Women in urban areas marry on average more than two years later than their rural counterparts.
The report also notes that the level of teenage pregnancy and childbearing is 9 times higher among women with no education than among women with 12 or more years of education.
As many as 5.4 million (44%) of married children under the age of 10 were illiterate – 80% of them female – indicating the extent to which lower levels of education are correlated with early marriage.
Up to 1,403 women have never attended an educational institution for every 1,000 men who have not.
In developing countries, girls with less access to quality education are more likely to marry early, wrote Quentin Wodon, an adviser in the World Bank’s education department.
Better and safer employment opportunities for girls can also reduce child marriage, as can better access to basic infrastructure (water, electricity), which frees up time spent on domestic chores for schooling, wrote Wodon.