NEW DELHI: It’s a social ill that continues to shame India. Nearly 45% of women in the country, aged between 20 and 24, are married off before they reach 18, the legal age to marry. What’s worse, the number is over 50% in eight states.
While 61% of women in Jharkhand were married off before 18, the number stood at 60% in Bihar, 57% in Rajasthan, 55% in Andhra Pradesh, 53% each in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal and 52% in Chattisgarh. Lack of education was found to be a major factor fuelling this trend. Over 71% of women who got married below the age of 18 had received no education.
These are part of the findings of the latest National Family Health Survey-III, carried out in 29 states during 2005-06.
The survey, conducted by 18 research organisations, including five population research centres, and designed to collect and provide vital information on population, family planning, maternal and child health, child survival, nutrition of children and status of women, also unmasks another worrying trend. Six states — Arunachal Pradesh, Punjab, Mizoram, Sikkim, Tripura and West Bengal — which reported a lower percentage of under-18 marriages among women during the NFHS-II survey conducted in 1998-99, show an upward trend in NFHS-III. Officials say more and more women in these six states are being married off at the age of 15.
The survey, which interviewed 1,24,395 women and reported a response rate of 94.5%, shows that this social malady exists mostly in rural India. While 52.5% of the cases of under-18 marriages were found to be in rural areas, the number stood at 28.1% in urban India.
Some states, however, have shown a low prevalence of this practice. States like Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, Punjab, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand and Meghalaya reported 12%-25% prevalence.
Kounteya Sinha, 23 Feb, 2007 TIMES NEWS NETWORK