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Bihar Continues To Have High Percentage Of Child Marriages

In spite of an overall decline in the rate of marriage among young girls across most of Indian States, Bihar continues to have a comparatively higher percentage of marriage before girls reach the legally prescribed age of 18 years.


According to the recent National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4, 2015-16) data, 39.1% of women within the age-group of 20-24 years are married before 18 years. In simpler terms, 2 of every 5 adolescent girls are married off before they complete their higher secondary education.  


A comparative analysis done by CRY—Child Rights and You–the trend recorded by two consecutive National Family Health Surveys (NFHS-3, 2005-06 and NFHS-4, 2015-16) reveals that the State has registered an improvement of 20 percentage points in under-age marriage over the last decade. The findings of NFHS-3 had recorded that 60.3% of women within the age-group of 20-24 years were married within their teens.


Worryingly, 12.2% of women within the age-group of 15-19 years were already mothers or pregnant at the time of the survey. 


As per District Level Household Survey data (DLHS-4, 2015-16), the status of child marriage in the intervention areas of CRY-supported projects in Bihar, Supaul had the highest percentage of underage married, closely followed by Begusarai, Jamui, Samastipur and Gaya districts. Supaul accounted for more than 56% of girl child marriage, while Begusarai (53.2%), Jamui (50.8%), Samastipur (49.6%) and Gaya (47.6%) closely followed. 


In fact, statistics from DLHS-4 and DLHS-3 show that the percentage of child marriages had gone up in several districts. In Munger it went up from 30.5% (DLHS-3) to 32.6% (DLHS-4), Supaul from 44.2% to 56.9% during the same period, Begusarai (42.2%) to (53.2%), and Vaishali (41.2%) to (46%).


However, girls of Bihar will have one big reason to celebrate the Girl Child Day this year on a more positive note, as the State government has recently announced the launch of a full-fledged state-wide campaign against child marriage and dowry system prevalent in the society. 


Welcoming the govt. decision Mohua Chatterjee, program head, CRY (Eastern Region) said it was a positive move, as the government has actually taken into cognizance the gravity of child marriage situation in the state.


According to her, “Education can significantly play the role of a game-changer when it comes to adolescent girls getting married off and bearing children before they are prepared, both physically and mentally.”   


“As the latest Census (2011) data reveals, there are over 13 million adolescent girls who are married between 10 to 19 years of age and a startling 3.8 million adolescent girls in India have children and are shouldering the responsibilities of motherhood. Of these 3.8 million underage mothers 1.4 million had 2 or more children, even before completing adolescence. A brief analysis of their education profile reveals that, 39% of girls who were illiterate had begun child bearing, compared to 26% among the girls who were literate, proving that even a little education goes a long way in empowering girls,” she added.


Lack of access to school is a big reason why girls are often dropped out at the secondary and higher secondary levels. To address the issue, the state govt. should set up a residential school for girls’ at each block of all districts, she added. 


“While the campaign shows a strong political will and commitment towards the issue of child marriage, there is a need to direct this campaign towards developing and strengthening women’s agency and ensuring their access to all kinds of benefits, rights, entitlements, decision making – not only to reduce child marriage but also to bring in change in quality of lives for the girls and children,” she added. 


Meanwhile, to mark the International Day of the Girl Child on October 11, Ms Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director of the Population Foundation of India has said that the day  is a global opportunity for recognising both the value and power of girls and revisit the barriers and discrimination that girls face in the pursuit of their rights and happiness. The work and vision of the Population Foundation of India (PFI) has been guided by the principle of gender equality, and advocating a framework for policy that is empowering for women and girls.


The theme for this year is `The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2030’ that calls upon all of us to think of our vision for girls and we see them grow into healthy, educated and empowered women. 


 We envision the end of sex-selective abortions; we see equal opportunities, a future where every girl has access to education and healthcare. We want to see them gainfully employed, confident about their bodies and minds, women who set an example for future generations of young girls and boys to come. Therefore, it is critical that we take a hard look at the progress so far and address the gaps to ensure that our girls have equal opportunities,’’ she has said. 


It is a priority for civil society organisations, governments and elected representatives, to join hands – forge effective collaborations that help girls remain in school, break away from the shackles of early marriage and unwanted pregnancy. “We have all seen how empowering girls and women enable improvements to their health, education, nutrition and employment. Girls can break the wheel of oppression, ensure that the possibilities are limitless, and change the narrative not only for them but for the generations to come; we just need to give them the chance,’’ Ms Muttreja has said. 

By TIS Staffer
the authorBy TIS Staffer

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