The UN has condemned underage forced marriages in Zimbabwe following the death of a 14-year-old girl reportedly during childbirth.
• The death has sparked widespread anger on social media and among children’s rights activists. Cases of child marriages in Zimbabwe: Cases of violence perpetrated against women and girls in Zimbabwe, “including marriages of minors” are a matter of concern.
• Official statistics show that one in three Zimbabwean girls are married off before the age of 18.

Child marriages across the world The total number of girls married in childhood stands at 12 million per year.
• Across the globe, levels of child marriage are highest in sub-Saharan Africa, where 35 per cent of young women were married before age 18, followed by South Asia, where nearly 30 per cent were married before age 18.
• Lower levels of child marriage are found in Latin America and Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, and Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

• Progress over the last decade meant 25 million child marriages were prevented.
• Overall, the proportion of women who became brides before age 18 decreased by 15 per cent during this period: from one in four to approximately one in five.
• Worldwide, some 650 million women alive today were married when they were just girls.
• Largest decline in child marriage in the last 10 years occurred in South Asia.
• Rates there dropped by roughly a third: from nearly 50 per cent to 30 per cent, largely due to progress in India.
• Despite this progress, the UN agency estimates 12 million girls are married off each year.
• Eliminating child marriage and other practices harmful to women and girls are among the targets under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
• The 17 SDGs focus on people, the planet and prosperity, and have a deadline of 2030.
• Progress particularly needs to be scaled up in sub-Saharan Africa where the “global burden” of child marriage is now shifting.
• The region accounted for close to one in three of the world’s most recently married child brides, compared to one in five a decade ago.
• India saw a sharp decline in child marriages over the last ten years with 27 percent of girls getting married before their 18th birthday as against 47 per cent a decade ago.

• This decline in India has contributed significantly to a global decline in child marriages. Overall, the proportion of girls who were married as children decreased by 15 per cent in the last decade, from 1 in 4 to approximately 1 in 5.
• The UN children’s agency attributed increasing rates of girls’ education, proactive government investments in adolescent girls, and strong public awareness about the illegality of child marriage and the harm it causes are among the reasons for the decline.

Child marriage still exists in India
• Social groups follow traditions from previous eras without questioning contemporary relevance. Early marriage allows parents to waiver ‘responsibility’ of settling their children.
• Economically weak and large families encourage the practice as it helps send-off girl children early, while marriage of a boy brings an additional hand to assist in household and economic activities.
• Members of communities practicing child marriage tend to have little to no formal education. Belief in religious scriptures and the idea that these contain prescription for early marriage drive families to fulfill this “obligation.”
• Early marriage ensures full “utilization” of fertility and childbearing capacity.
• Strong caste ties limit the availability of suitable marital partners. As soon as parents identify a match, they make haste in conducting the marriage.
• Limited education opportunities, low quality of education, inadequate infrastructure, lack of transport and therefore concerns about girls’ safety while travelling to school significantly contribute to keeping girls out of school and
therefore tend to favour child marriage.
• Girls are often seen as a liability with limited economic role. Women’s work is confined to the household and is not valued. In addition, there is the problem of dowry. Despite the fact that dowry has been prohibited for five decades (Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961), it is still common for parents of girls in India to give gifts to the groom and /or his family either in cash or kind. The dowry amount increases with the age and the education level of the girl . Hence, the “incentive” of the system of dowry perpetuates child marriage.
• The families and girls who might benefit from social protection programmes are not always aware of them and these schemes are often limited to providing cash transfers without the accompanying messages to address the multi dimensional nature of child marriage General Causes for Child Marriages.
• Age Factor:
▪ Some parents consider the age period of 15-18 as unproductive, especially for girls, so they start finding a match
for their child during this age period.
▪ Underaged girls are more prone to child marriage than boys.
▪ Further, the Right To Education Act makes education free and compulsory up to the age of 14 only.
• Insecurity:
o Law and Order are still not able to provide a secure environment for the girls in adolescent age, so some parents get their girl child married at a young age.
• Other Reasons:
o Poverty,
o Political and financial reasons,
o Lack of education,
o Patriarchy and gender inequalities, etc.
Laws to prevent Child Marriages
• The Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 to restrict the practice of child marriage.
• The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 to address and fix the shortcomings of the Child Marriage Restraint Act.
Child Marriage in Lockdown
• It is defined as a marriage of a girl or boy before the age of 18 and refers to both formal marriages and informal unions in which children under the age of 18 live with a partner as if married.
• United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates suggest that each year, at least 1.5 million girls under 18 get married in India, which makes it home to the largest number of child brides in the world – accounting for a third of the global total.
• Recent study by The Lancet shows that up to 2.5 million more girls (below the age of 18) around the world are at risk of marriage in the next 5 years because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Reason for Increased Child Marriages during Lockdown
• Lack of Alert Mechanism:
o Earlier, when child marriages happened at wedding halls, temples, etc, there were people who would alert the relevant authorities or activists who would be able to reach on time to stop it. But now, with marriages happening at homes, we may get fewer alerts and our going there could be treated as trespass.
• Pandemic Induced Pressures:
o Economic pressures due to the pandemic have pushed poor parents to marry off girls early.
o With no schools, safety of children, particularly girls, was a major reason for increase in violence against children and child marriages.
• Delays Demographic Dividend:
▪ Child Marriage contributes to larger families and in turn, population growth. This delays the demographic dividend that would have come from reduced fertility and investment in education.
o Bad for Family:
▪ Children married at a young age do not understand the responsibilities of marriage. This results in a lack of
understanding among family members. Hence, disturbs the institution of the family.
o On the Child Bride:
▪ It negatively influences children’s rights to education, health and protection.
▪ A girl who is married as a child is more likely to be out of school and not earn money and contribute to the community.
▪ She is more likely to experience domestic violence and become infected with HIV/AIDS.

▪ There are more chances of her dying due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
• Government Initiatives to Prevent Child Marriages:
o The Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 restricts the practice of child marriage.
o The Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 prescribe 18 and 21 years as the minimum age of consent for marriage for women and men respectively.
▪ The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 was enacted to address and fix the shortcomings of the Child Marriage Restraint Act.
o The Union Ministry for Women and Child Development has set up a committee to examine matters pertaining to age of motherhood, imperatives of lowering Maternal Mortality Ratio and the improvement of nutritional levels among women. The Committee is headed by Jaya Jaitely.
▪ The Committee was proposed in the Union Budget 2020-21.
o Prevention of Child Marriage is a part of SDG 5 which deals with gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls.

• The harmful consequences of child marriage are segregation from family and friends, limiting the child’s interactions with the community and peers, lack of opportunities for education.
• Early maternal and infant deaths
o Adolescent mothers give birth prematurely or to low weight babies. The health of the child and mother are at risk and often they do not survive.
o Infant mortality rates are higher than the national average in the stateswhere child marriage is highly prevalent.
• Health Risks A. Because of lack of protection child brides are often exposed to serious health risks, early pregnancy, and various STDs especially HIV/AIDS.
• Violence A. Girl children often face situations of bonded labour, enslavement, commercial sexual exploitation and violence as a result of child marriage.
• She is forced to take up roles that she isn’t mentally prepared for. It eventually leads to isolation and depresion.

• Increase social awareness A. Children need to be made aware of their human rights and must be taught to refuse and speak up once such an incident is taking place B. The media also needs to adopt a more proactive role in generating
awareness towards this heinous ritual. C. Changing social norms and attitudes towards girls.
• To transform social norms, programmes must go hand in hand with other interventions to change parents’ attitudes, improve education, incentivise higher level of education, and increase opportunities for girls to learn, work and earn.
• The values and norms which support the practice of child marriage need to shift.
• Raise awareness about the harmful consequences of child marriage.
• A strong legal and policy system can provide an important backdrop for improvements in services, changes in social norms and girls’ empowerment.
• Imparting value based education to the students in school stressing the importance of education and the ill effects of early marriage.
• Government could rope in achievers like Sakshi Malik, Dipa Karmakar and PV sindhu who have achieved great success in their field and parents and students can seek inspiration from their achieve
• Inform the respective Child Development Project Officers, who are designated government officials, to stop child marriage.

Way Forward
• One way of keeping a check on child marriages during the pandemic would be to ensure that there is a strong cohort of child protection workers among essential health workers.
• India has a robust system of grassroots workers who have done commendable work in ensuring that health and other social security services reach people in these dire times.
• If such workers were incorporated into the system they could keep a check on girl children at risk of early marriage and take steps to avert these. This could be in the form of awareness counseling and helping some benefits reach the family