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India fails to check marriages of minor girls
Houses eighth highest population of married adolescent girls in Asia, Africa: UNICEF report
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 27
India is among the 10 countries of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa that house the highest number of girls who marry before the legal age of 18 years. The UNICEF State of the World Children Report 2011 launched in the Capital recently reveals that India is home to 20 per cent of the world’s adolescents and half of the adolescents living in Asia.

The report has lessons for India as it shows how investments in adolescent education and health worldwide are helping countries break the entrenched cycles of poverty and inequity.

The report titled, “Adolescence: An Age of Opportunity”, counts the world’s adolescents (those aged between 11 and 19 years) at 1.2 billion. While adolescents represent only 12 per cent of the people in the industrialised world, in India they account for around one quarter of the total population. These people need urgent attention as they hold the key to breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty and abuse.

In India, 30 per cent of the adolescent girls in the 15-18 age group get married, with Rajasthan housing the maximum numbers (58 per cent). Globally also, India is placed in the bottom heap in the category. It is next only to Chad, Mali, Niger, Bangladesh, Guinea, Nepal and Uganda when it comes to housing adolescent married girls. Even Pakistan is better off on this count as only 36 per cent of its girls in the 20-24 age group had the first union before 18 years; the corresponding percentage for India is 64.

These figures are contained in the data on adolescent marriages reported by 31 countries in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The data shows that one in every five adolescent females in the 15-19 age group in the developing world (excluding China) are married. The rate rises to 28 per cent for South Asia and 30 per cent for India.

India’s adolescents are disadvantaged on almost all counts - one third of them report physical exploitation, another one third report sexual exploitation; 6,000 adolescent mothers die every year; there is 50 per cent higher risk of infant deaths among mothers aged below 20 years.

“This year’s report makes a strong case for enforcing laws that make child marriage a crime,” according to UNICEF’s India representative Karin Hulshof.





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