Methods: For this study we analyzed data on married women from the National Family Health Survey – NFHS-1 (1992-93), NFHS-3 (2005-06) and NFHS-4 (2015-16), which is a nationally representative survey of women aged 15-49 years. We used a sub-sample of 197,733 women who were 25 years and below. Further, we used a sub-sample of women from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana to examine determinants of child marriage. 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 in India reported age at marriage to be before 18 years. Percentage decrease in child marriage was found to be 36% over the previous 25 years and 27% over the previous decade. Among the states with highest level of child marriage, Uttar Pradesh showed the maximum decrease of 46% over the past decade. In terms of economic development, the state with the highest HDI, Kerala, showed the maximum decline at 56% over the past 25 years and 39% over the past decade. From logistic regression analyses using data from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, we found that education, household wealth and religion emerge as important predictors of child marriage.
Conclusions and Implications: While the practice of child marriage has been declining, progress has been slow. 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 to educating and empowering girls and women.