80 yrs since ban, 45% of girls still married off before 18
48% Of Them Get Pregnant Before Attaining Majority: Survey
New Delhi: Laws banning child marriages were introduced in the country in 1929 but 80 years down the line, the social ill continues to be as grave as ever.
Nearly half the women in India are married off before they reach the legal age of 18, a joint Indo-American study announced in the medical journal 'Lancet' on Tuesday.
After looking at data of 22,807 women aged 20-24 years, around 44.5% of these women were found to have got married before the age of 18.
> 22.6% girls married before 16, while 2.6% wedded before 13
> 48.4% of married girls have a child before they turn 18
> 37% of them did not use contraception before first baby
> They are seven times likelier to have more than three children
> Three times likelier to have a child again in less than 24 months
> They are also nearly 50% likelier to have an abortion
According to researchers specialising in social and behavioural sciences at Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH), economic and educational reforms in India have failed to lower the prevalence of child marriages, fuelling risks of multiple unwanted pregnancies, their termination and sterilisations.
Even worse, it has been found to be associated with poor fertility outcomes, such as unwanted and terminated pregnancies and repeat childbirths in less than 24 months.
Lead author Dr Anita Raj, associate professor at BUSPH, said the study found that more than one in five — 22.6% — were married before age 16, while 2.6% were married before age 13. Women who married younger than 18 were significantly more likely to report no contraceptive use before their first childbirth. Nearly half — 48.4% — of women who were married as children reported giving birth before they turned 18.
"These results suggest that neither recent progress in economic and women's development, nor programmatic efforts to prevent child marriage and promote maternal and child health, have been sufficient to reduce the prevalence of child marriage in India," Dr Raj said.
The study found sterilisation rates were higher for women married as children than for those married as adults — 19.5% compared to 4.6%. Overall, more than one in eight women, or 13.4%. had been sterilised. Of those not sterilised, more than three-quarters reported no present contraception use. Child brides were also at greater risk of a fistula — a tear in the genital tract — as well as pregnancy complications and death and sickness as a result of childbirth. India introduced laws against child marriage in 1929 and set the legal age for marriage at 12 years. The legal age for marriage was increased to 18 years in 1978.
The researchers said, "Women who had been child brides were 37% likelier not to have used contraception before their first child was born; seven times likelier to have three or more births; and three times likelier to have a repeat childbirth in less than 24 months."
They added, "They were also more than twice as likely to have multiple unwanted pregnancies, nearly 50% likelier to have an abortion and more than six times likelier to seek sterilisation compared with counterparts who had married after the age of 18."
Unicef recently said that child marriage was increasing India's maternal and infant deaths. Girls who give birth before the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s. If a mother is under the age of 18, her infant's risk of dying in its first year of life is 60% greater than that of an infant born to a mother older than 19. "More than 40% of the world's child marriages take place in India. Worldwide, more than 60 million women between 20-24 were married before they were 18. Child brides become mothers much before their bodies are physically mature," Unicef 's Karin Hulshof said. She added child marriage prevented many girls from continuing education and are less likely to seek medical attention for babies. (Kounteya Sinha/Times of India/Delhi/11 March 09)
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