Apart from serious health consequences, child marriage leads to limited education and employment opportunities for girls, furthering social and economic inequity. Over the past few decades, the Indian Government has been working in partnership with civil society organizations, communities and the UNICEF and UNFPA towards the goal to end child marriage. However, limited studies have mapped the impact of these interventions or the changes in prevalence of child marriage over time; and, few studies have examined these changing trends by state. Within this study we examined the prevalence and rate of change of child marriage in India over the past 25 years and over the last decade, both at the national and state level.
Methods: For this study we analyzed data on married women from the National Family Health Survey – NFHS-1 (1992-93), NFHS-2 (1998-99), NFHS-3 (2005-06) and NFHS-4 (2015-16) which is a nationally representative survey of women aged 15-49 years. We used a subsample of 197,733 women who were 25 years and below. Child marriage was defined as first marriage below 18 years of age, and we used data on age at marriage to calculate percentage change in proportion of child marriage.
Results: We found that overall child marriage has been decreasing from 1992 through 2015, and as of 2015-16, 43% girls reported age at marriage to be before 18 years. Percentage decrease in child marriage was found to be 36.95% over the past 25 years and 27% over the past decade. Among the states with highest level of child marriage, Uttar Pradesh showed the maximum decrease of 46.03% over the past decade. In terms of economic development, the state with the highest HDI, Kerala, showed the maximum decline at 56.20% over the past 25 years and 39.97% over the past decade.
Conclusions and Implications: While the practice of child marriage has been declining, progress has been slow and the rate of decline is barely enough to keep up with population growth. Unless this decline in number of child brides is accelerated, India will be far from achieving the goal to end child marriage. Bringing an end to child marriage is crucial to breaking the inter-generational cycle of poverty; and, educated and empowered girls and women will be able to more fully participate in society, both economically and socially.