One in three Women in the India’s work force Marry before turning Legal age for Marriage

The accused, Meghna Bhargav, had allegedly married at least 11 men in Indore, Kerala, Pune, Mumbai and Rajasthan over the past few years.

New Delhi, June 28: Nearly one in three women in India’s workforce got married before 18, the legal age for marriage, data from Census 2011 reveals.

While 6% of males in India’s workforce got married below 18 years of age, more than 32% of India’s married females tie the knot before turning 18.

Worryingly, almost 15% of the females get married before reaching the age of 16.

The new data signals that despite a sustained campaign by the government, India still has a long way to go in preventing child marriages and empower its young female population.

To be sure, India has made substantial progress and these numbers are an improvement from the 2001 Census numbers.

As per Census 2001, nearly one in two married females and one in 10 married males in India’s workforce were married before 18.

Within the Indian workforce, the story is similar for main workers and marginal workers.

Marginal workers are defined as those workers who work less than 183 days in the preceding year of the census.

Under the main workers category, more than 31% of the female workers who married did so before 18. This was more than 33% for marginal workers, as per Census 2011.

In comparison, according to Census 2001, almost 45% of the females in the main workers category and nearly 50% of the females in the marginal workers category were married before the legal minimum age for marriage.

Categorized on the lines of economic activity, the proportion of women getting married before 18 years of age was highest among cultivators and agricultural labourers in the main workers category and for marginal workers.

Among males, too, this proportion is highest for cultivators, followed by marginal workers and agricultural labourers.

Lack of political will to implement policies such as National Education Policy as well as the nature of development policies to counter poverty are responsible for women marrying early, said Indu Agnihotri, director at Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS).

“In the name of being tolerant to cultures, the government has no motivation to implement the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, properly, unless a complaint is filed. Moreover, arbitrary selection of age (six to 14 years) in the Right to Education Act has only shown lack of political will on the part of successive governments,” said Agnihotri.

“The extent of poverty and the nature of development policy have left the poor vulnerable. In this scenario, marriage offers a form of security for girls, and in this process, they become the victims of this paradigm of development which ignores poverty and looks at the problem from a cultural lens,” she added.

The data shows that the worst offender is Rajasthan with the highest proportion of married males and females below 18. While almost 45% of females got married under 18 years of age, 15% of the males also got married before 18.

“The numbers show that the pursuit of gender equality is a sham. We have managed to narrow down the gender gap when it comes to literacy; so more girls are going to schools. However, we have failed in ensuring they get married at the marriageable age, thus reflecting how socially conservative we are,” said Manisha Priyam, a New Delhi-based political analyst.

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