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48% of girls married off before adulthood

New Delhi, March 11: Almost half the women born in India are married off before they turn 18, while 18 per cent of them are below 15, according to a Unicef report that shows legal and other measures have done little to curb child marriage.

Among those married, 22 per cent became mothers before they got the right to vote.

The figures are part of a report brought out by the organisation on the State of Urban Children of the World following a survey in 2010-11.

“With the projected growth of urban population in India in the next 15 years to cross half a billion, we need to better understand the situation of children living in this rapidly growing urban environment,” said Karin Hulshof, representative, Unicef India.

The report, which makes a distinction between the urban poor (slum dwellers) and those better off, indicates that child marriage is not something that is restricted to rural India.

While 48 per cent of women among India’s urban poor are married off before they reach the age of 18, the figure is 29 per cent for relatively affluent city households.

In villages, 47 per cent of women are married off before they turn 18.

“The report is grim. It shows that despite measures from the government and non-government organisations, we haven’t been able to curb child marriage or raise awareness among people about basic health and education,” said a senior official of the women and child ministry who didn’t want to be named.

Child marriage is prohibited by law in India, with the minimum age of marriage being 18 for girls and 21 for boys.

According to Unicef, more than 40 per cent of the world’s child marriages still occur in India. Worldwide, according to the 2010-11 survey, more than 60 million women between 20 and 24 were married before they turned 18.

None of the indicators drew a rosy picture of Indian society. According to the report, 57 percent males in India between 15 and 19 and 53 per cent of women in the same group believed that husbands were justified in beating up their wives under certain circumstances.

The report also indicates a lack of knowledge about HIV, though awareness campaigns about the disease are on all over the country through government and private initiatives. Only 35 per cent Indian males between 15 and 19 and 19 per cent among women in the same age group have a comprehensive knowledge about the malaise.

Hulshof said many children “enjoy the advantages of urban life” such as schools, clinics and playgrounds. But the report also says that 59 per cent women among the urban poor were anaemic, while the corresponding figure for rural India was 57 per cent.

“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 and opportunities,” Hulshof said.