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Child Marriage on Rise in Kerala: UNICEF

Author: Anindita Sanyal (with PTI inputs)
Publication: NDTV.com
Date: August 30, 2014
URL: http://www.ndtv.com/article/south/child-marriage-on-rise-in-kerala-unicef-583974?pfrom=home-south

Kerala, the state that tops India's literacy chart, is suddenly witnessing a spurt in child marriages, reports UNICEF. 

Kerala has a literacy rate of over 90 per cent and the state's social indicators are higher than average. And the better gender balance had so far ensured that the child marriage rate is low. But not any more.

"Recent studies have shown a rising rate in Kerala," said Dora Giusti, UNICEF's Child Protection Specialist in India. "It was not the case even a few years back."

Ms Giusti attributes the phenomenon to migration from the northern part of the country.

"Child marriage is more common among certain groups and among disadvantaged communities. But of late there has been a rise in it due to migration from the northern part of India," she said.

In recent years, Kerala has been a favoured destination for young men from Haryana who are looking for brides. The skewed gender ratio in the northern state has resulted in a shortage of marriageable girls. But these north-south marriages have been one of the key reasons of integration.  

"The District Level Household and Facility Survey's latest survey (2007-08) study shows child marriage is widespread but more prevalent in rural areas -- 48 per cent versus 29 per cent. Further, child marriage tends to be more commonly practised in low caste and scheduled tribes," she said.

According to the UNICEF report, in India, there were more child marriages in rural areas than urban -- 52.5 per cent of married women in the 20-24 year age group in rural areas and 28.2 per cent in urban areas had got married before they were 18 years old.

Although this gap between urban and rural areas has almost halved -- from 30.2 per cent in 1992-1993 to 18.6 per cent in 2007-2008 -- women in rural areas are twice more likely to be child brides than their urban counterparts, the report said.

Among the other states, Bihar has the highest incidence of child marriage at 68 per cent. Himachal Pradesh with around nine per cent has the lowest incidence, the report said.

Six states -- Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal -- have the highest incidence of child marriage. The figure ranges between 51.9 per cent and 68.2 per cent, the report revealed.

In these states, at least one in two married women in the 20-24 year age group happen to be a child bride.

Among five of the six states with the highest incidence -- Uttar Pradesh being the sole exception -- more than half the districts have a higher incidence of child marriage than the state average, the report said.
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