With recognized expertise on the scope, causes and consequences of child marriage, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) continues to be called upon not only to evaluate and design programs that address early marriage, but also to advise organizations and governments committed to ending the harmful practice that robs millions of girls worldwide of their childhood.
Most recently, ICRW Asia Regional Office Director Ravi Verma has been part of a core group of global experts who is advising the Indian government on how best to frame and execute a national strategy to prevent child marriage. Brought together by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the group of nine led by Indian government officials includes representatives from the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Ford Foundation, the European Union and the Mother and Child Health Institute in New Delhi.
Members from the core group are currently finalizing a proposed child marriage prevention plan, which they have spent more than a year crafting. Indeed, the group’s effort is a timely one: child marriage remains one of India’s most pressing development challenges.
More than 40 percent of the world’s child marriages take place in India, where the practice continues to be fueled by entrenched poverty and centuries-old tradition. And while the rate of child marriage reportedly dropped to 46 percent in 2009, its prevalence still exceeds 50 percent in some states, with the highest rates found in Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh. The problem is worse in rural India as compared to urban areas, with 56 and 29 percent prevalence, respectively, according to “Child Marriage in Southern Asia: Policy Options for Action,” a 2012 ICRW report published in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund, the Australian Agency for International Development and the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development.
The Indian government has endeavored to curb the practice by passing legislation in 2006 that increased the legal age of marriage for girls and boys to 18 and 21, respectively; and by piloting innovative interventions in high-risk communities. Experts believe these efforts have contributed to the declining rate of child marriages in the country.
To accelerate this decline, the government is now striving to create a more comprehensive approach to curbing child marriage. The overall prevention strategy being finalized by the core group – and to be approved by the government of India – is framed around key principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. In part, these principles promote the best interests of children, equal opportunities for them – regardless of gender, age or ethnicity – and protection from all forms of abuse. Child marriage is often associated with violence, abuse and confinement.
The proposed child marriage prevention plan calls for India to adopt a more integrated system to effectively address the issue. The approach would aim to change deeply entrenched social norms over time by at once targeting individuals, families, community-based organizations and government officials. It also would include a component to monitor and evaluate progress on strategic goals.
If approved, the strategic plan will be shared with state officials throughout the country. States would then be expected to identify districts that have a high incidence of child marriage and allocate resources to implement the plan.
Read more ICRW research and programs related to child marriage:
Asia Child Marriage Initiative: Summary of Research in Bangladesh, India and Nepal: This new report examines perceptions about the causes and consequences of child marriage in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, and offers strategies to delay the practice.
Not Her Mother’s Daughter: ICRW Senior Director of Communications Jennifer Abrahamson recounts her visit to Haryana, India, where ICRW is evaluating an innovative government program that uses cash to encourage families to keep their daughters in school instead of marrying them off at a young age.
Solutions to End Child Marriage: In this 2011 report, ICRW experts synthesize child marriage prevention programs that have documented evaluations and offer an analysis of the broader implications for viable solutions to child marriage.
Child Marriage in Southern Asia – Policy Options for Action: These policy and advocacy briefs highlight the life-threatening situations girls in nine Southern Asian countries face on account of child marriage and recommend ways in which policymakers can prevent the practice.
Out of the Shadows: Child Marriage in Ethiopia: This four-part series of stories offers a glimpse into the lives of child brides in Ethiopia and how ICRW is working to support them.