New Delhi: Expressing dismay over an alarming figure of 23 million child brides in the country, the Supreme Court has said one out of every five marriages violated laws prohibiting child marriage.
According to a PTI report, a bench of Justices M B Lokur and Deepak Gupta, which criminalised sex with a minor wife in a landmark verdict yesterday, referred to a study conducted on child marriages, based on 2011 census.
“It was found that three percent girls in the age group of 10 to 14 years were got married and about 20 percent girls were married before attaining the age of 19 years.
“Unfortunately, this report deals with girls below the age of 19 years and not 18 years, but the report does indicate that more than 20 percent girls in this country are married before attaining the age of 18 years. Therefore, more than one out of every 5 marriages violates provisions of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act and the Hindu Marriage Act,” it said.
It also referred to a National Family Health Survey report revealing that 26.8 percent women were married before 18 years, the report added.
The figure, however, has come down from the year 2005-06 when the percentage was as high as 47.4.
“The counter affidavit of Union of India refers to the National Family Health Survey (of 2005) in which it is stated that 46 percent of women in India between the ages of 18 and 29 years were married before the age of 18 years.
“It is also estimated, interestingly but disturbingly, that there are about 23 million child brides in the country,” Justice Lokur said in his judgement.
Concurring with Justice Lokur’s view, Justice Gupta, who wrote a separate concurring judgement, said the figures were “startling”, the report said.
“In the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), 2015-2016 some startling figures are revealed. It was found that at the time of carrying out the survey in 2014, amongst women in the age group of 20-24 years, almost 26.8 percent women were married before they attained the age of 18 years, i.e. more than one out of four marriages was of a girl child,” he said.
The report also revealed that in urban areas, the percentage was 17.5 while in rural areas it was 31.5 percent.
As per the NFHS 2015-16, nearly 8 percent girls between 15-19 years of age were already mothers or pregnant at the time of the survey.
As per the data, 13 percent under-18 girls in Delhi were married which has come down from 22.7 percent recorded in 2005-06.
The top court also expressed concern over the health of the girl child saying a child bride is more than doubly prone to health problems than a grown-up woman.
“The World Health Organisation, in a Report dealing with the issue of child brides found that though 11 percent of the births worldwide are amongst adolescents, they account for 23 percent of the overall burden of diseases. Therefore, a child bride is more than doubly prone to health problems than a grown-up woman,” it said.
It also referred to the National Plan of Action for Children, 2016, saying that the government of India itself has recognised the high rate of child marriages prevalent in the country which violates the basic rights of health, development and protection of the child.
“A perusal of the various reports and data placed before us clearly shows that marriage of the child not only violates the human rights of a child but also affects the health of the child,” the bench said.
Meanwhile, West Bengal has got the dubious distinction of having the maximum number of married girl children at 40 percent, a survey considered by the Supreme Court has said.
The apex court, which has delivered a historic verdict declaring sexual intercourse with a minor wife as rape, quoted the survey in its order, saying the figure of 40.7 percent of child brides significantly rises to 47 percent in rural areas of the populous eastern state, PTI report said.
The report said the lowest percentage of child marriages was recorded in Punjab and Kerala at 7.6 percent.
According to the National Family Health Survey 2015-16, the states with second and third highest percentage of brides under 18 years of age were Bihar and Jharkhand with 39 and 38 percent respectively, the report added.
The report was submitted before a Supreme Court bench of Justices M B Lokur and Deepak Gupta, which ruled that sex with a wife who is under 18 years of age is an offence under the Indian Penal Code with an imprisonment of up to 10 years, PTI said in its report.
As per the data which assumes significance in the light of the apex court’s verdict, the national capital of India recorded 13 percent of the child brides in 2015-16, which has come down from 22.7 percent in 2005-06.
The states of Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Gujarat have 35.4, 25 and 24.9 percent of child brides, the report said.