Three out of every five Child Brides experienced Teenage Pregnancy, study reveals

Photo: Daiga Ellaby

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

While the study highlights social norms and practices majorly influencing perception of under-age marriage in the society, other factors contributing to child marriage are extreme poverty, forced migration and gender inequity. Findings also imply that 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.

The study report released by CRY on the occasion of Children’s Day (14th November) and Child Safety Week (14th to 20th November) contained an exhaustive range of quantitative data and insights gathered from a 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.

Elaborating the objective of the study, Puja Marwaha, the CEO of CRY – Child Rights and You, 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.

Going by findings of the study, child marriage has a detrimental impact on girls’ sexual and reproductive health (SRH), as majority of them become mothers before attaining adulthood, thus being exposed to high-risk pregnancy. More than half of the women respondents – 51 per cent of child 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 child brides stated to have experienced teenage pregnancy.

Going further, a sizable proportion of adolescent mothers reported to have given birth to babies with low birth-weight. According to the study, 17 per cent and 16 per cent of child brides reported having babies with low birth-weight for their first and second child, respectively.

The study found that cases of child marriage in the study areas of Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha were still prevalent, even though there has been some decline in 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 while 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 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 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 Sample Registration System (SRS) 2020data (published in 2022), Odisha has highest percentage (3.7 per cent) of females who married effectively below the age of 18 years, followed by Uttar Pradesh among the four above mentioned states. The least has recorded in Maharashtra.

Mean age at effective marriage of females during child marriage is lowest in Uttar Pradesh (16.3 Years) followed by Odisha (16.5 years), Andhra Pradesh (16.6 years) and Maharashtra (17), while the national average stands at 16.5 years.

As per NFHS-4 and NFHS-5 data, 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). It is pertinent to note that the other three states have been showing declining trend of child marriage and teenage pregnancy in the past five years, but Andhra Pradesh has shown a reverse trend over the same period of time.