Child marriage usually refers to two separate social phenomena which are practiced in some societies. The first and more widespread practice is that of marrying a young child (generally defined as below the age of fifteen) to an adult. In practice, it is almost always a young girl married to a man.
The second practice is a form of arranged marriage in which the parents of two children from different families arrange a future marriage. In this practice, the individuals who become betrothed often do not meet one another until the wedding ceremony, which occurs when they are both considered to be of a marriageable age. In most practicing cultures, this age is at or after the onset of puberty.
Child marriage has been prevalent in many cultures throughout human history, but has gradually diminished since some countries started to urbanize, changing the ways of life for the people of these countries. An increase in the advocation of human rights, whether as women’s rights or as children’s rights, has caused the traditions of child marriage to decrease greatly as it was considered unfair and dangerous for the children. Today, child marriage is usually only practiced in countries where cultural practices and traditions of child marriage still have a strong influence, or where the living standards and conditions create a strong incentive for child marriage.
Child marriages may have many purposes. The nobility of some cultures tend to use child marriage among different factions or states as a method to secure political ties between them. For example, the son or daughter of the royal family of a weaker power would sometimes be arranged to marry into the royal family of a stronger neighbouring power, thus preventing itself from being assimilated. In the lower classes, if they were fortunate, families could use child marriages as means to gain financial ties with wealthier people, ensuring their successions.
In child betrothals, a child’s parents arrange a match with the parents of a child from another family (social standing, wealth and expected education all play a part), thus unilaterally determining the child’s future at a young age. It is thought by adherents that physical attraction is not a suitable foundation upon which to build a marriage and a family.A separate consideration is the age at which the wedding, as opposed to the engagement, takes place.
Families are able to cement political and/or financial ties by having their children inter-marry. The betrothal is considered a binding contract upon the families and the children. The breaking of a betrothal can have serious consequences both for the families and for the betrothed individuals themselves.
In an effort to curb the practice of child marriages the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh have passed laws that mandate the registration of all marriages in order to make it a valid marriage. However, mass marriages that involve children are frequently ignored by authorities.
According to “National Plan of Action for Children 2005,” (published by the Department of Women and Child Development of India) a goal has been set to eliminate child marriage completely by 2010. This plan is proving to be successful, though it is still difficult to monitor every child due to the sheer population of India.
According to UNICEF’s “State of the World’s Children-2009” report, 47% of India’s women aged 20-24 were married before the legal age of 18, with 56% in rural areas.The report also showed that 40% of the world’s child marriages occur in India.