Contemporary India continues to be plagued by social and health ills like child marriage, early motherhood and domestic violence. More than 40 percent of the world’s child marriages still occur in India. More than 60 million women worldwide who are between 20 and 24 years were married before they turned 18. Latest records in the ‘State of the World‘s Children report 2012’ released by UNICEF revealed that almost 22 percent women in India, who are now aged between 20 and 24 years gave birth to a child before they turned 18.
Almost 45 in every 1,000 births are born to mothers in the age group of 15-19. Around 57 percent of male adolescents (age 15-19) and 53 percent of female adolescents thought a husband was justified in beating up his wife under certain circumstances.
The report revealed that only 35 percent adolescent males (aged 15-19) and 19 percent adolescent females have a comprehensive knowledge of HIV. Almost 33 percent of children under the age of five in urban India and 46 percent in rural India are underweight.
Around two in four people in urban India and one in five in rural India use improved sanitation facilities. India ranks 46 and is among the 50 worst nations with the highest under-five mortality rate.
The report suggested that school attendance is lower in slums. A survey in Delhi found a primary school attendance rate of 54.5 percent among children living in slums in 2004–2005, compared with 90 percent for the city as a whole.
The report also threw light on child trafficking. It was seen that at any given time, nearly 2.5 million people are in forced labor as a result of trafficking, 22 to 50 percent of them are children. One study indicated that most trafficked girls are put to work as sex workers in major Indian cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata.
It was noted that 18 percent children between the years 2000-2010 were married by the age of fifteen and 47 percent were married by the age of eighteen. 5 percent of male and 30 percent female adolescents aged 15-19 are currently married/in union.
Karin Hulshof, UNICEF representative to India said to Times of India “A child born in a slum in urban India is as likely to die before her or his first birthday, to become underweight or anemic or to be married off before her 18th, as a child in rural India. Unfortunately for the urban poor child, the situation is most of the time not as visible and gets diluted by a much rosier picture of urban life. Great inequities are found within towns and cities, where great opportunity and great deprivation exist side by side.” He added that “Child brides become mothers much before their bodies are physically mature.”
World Health Organization‘s executive board meeting in Geneva had also taken up the issue recently. As per WHO, half the girls in early marriage live in south-east Asia. According to the National Family Health Survey, about 10 million girls are married each year before the age of 18 worldwide and one third of them live in India. Child marriage is now prohibited by law in India, with the minimum age of marriage being 18 for girls and 21 for boys. Though the latest available government survey found 48 percent of women (aged 20-24) were married or are in union before the age of 18.