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Child Marriage in West Bengal UPSC NOTE

 Why are girls getting married early despite receiving an education?

  • The paper titled ‘Prevalence of girl and boy child marriage across States and Union Territories in India, 1993–2021: a repeated cross-sectional study’ highlights that one in five girls are still married below legal age in India

  • The publication states that while some States have achieved dramatic decreases in prevalence and headcount for child marriage in girls, “other states have struggled.

  • The largest absolute increase in headcount was observed in West Bengal, representing an increase of 32.3% in headcount (difference n=500346 ).

  • West Bengal saw the largest absolute increase with over 5,00,000 more girls getting married as children,” the paper said. 

  • Child marriage, particularly girl child marriage, has posed a challenge for policy-makers in West Bengal for decades

  • The National Family Health Survey-5 carried out in 2019-20, points out that the women aged 20-24 years who were married.

  • The age of 18 years in West Bengal remains one of the highest in the country at 41.6%. 

  • The percentage was the same during the National Family Health Survey- 4

  • The all-India figure of women aged 20-24 years getting married before they turn 18 is pegged at 23.3%.

Have the cash incentives for girls to study not been effective?

  • The West Bengal government has made a number of policy interventions to stop child marriage.

  • Launched in October 2013, Kanyashree Prakalpa is a conditional cash transfer scheme aimed at incentivising the schooling of all teenage girls between the ages of 13 and 18.

  • And simultaneously discouraging child marriage.

  • The scheme has completed 10 years and was recognised at an international level with a United Nations Public Service Award 2017

  • The West Bengal Budget for the year 2023-24 said the scheme has covered 81 lakh girls.

  • While the school enrolment of girls has increased in the State.

  • In 2023, the West Bengal Higher Secondary Examination, also referred to as the Class XII board exam, saw a 14.84% increase in female candidates

  • The number of girls appearing in the examination was 1.27 lakh higher than boys and totalled 57.43% of the total candidates. 

  • The All-India Survey of Higher Education for 2020-21 also puts the number of estimated enrolment of girls in West Bengal at 9.29 lakh, which is higher than the boys enrolment which stood at 8.63 lakh.

  • It remains a puzzle for policy planners and researchers. 

  • There is a stride in educational attainment, which has not translated into increased participation of women in the workforce either,” Mr. Ahamed said.

  • Researchers like Mr. Ahamed point out that surprisingly there is no direct correlation between literacy rate and child marriage

  • Despite high literacy, the incidence of child marriage is also disproportionately high in some districts.

  • For example, the Purba Medinipur district with over 88% literacy rate has the highest incidence of child marriage of more than 57.6% as per NFHS- 5. 

  • Experts also link child marriage with migration as a significant population of the State go out to work in other States. 

  • There is a significant migratory population who goes to other States to work and they don’t want to leave unmarried daughters at home

  • Also, the men who are married to these girls want their wives to have children when they go out for work,” Dr. Dan said, explaining the vicious cycle.

  • Along with Kanyashree, the State government also has cash incentive schemes for marriage of girls named ‘Rupashree Prakalpa’. 

  • Certain families avail cash benefits of both the schemes to organise marriage of girls, sometimes soon after cashing in on the school scheme.

What is the feedback from the districts?

  • While child marriage is considered a human rights violation and a recognised form of sexual and gender-based violence.

  • The adverse impact of child marriage is manifested across maternal and child health in the State.

  • Days before the Lancet study was published, 10 infants died at Murshidabad Medical College and Hospital in a span of 24 hours

  • The hospital authorities said the majority of the children were born with extremely low birth weight. 

  • Amit Dan, principal of the medical college, said one of the babies was born weighing only 480 grams

  • We could not save the child. 

  • What we are dealing with is a social problem.

  • Because of child marriage and poverty, children are born with a low birth weight and sometimes doctors are not able to save them,” Dr. Dan said.

  • Murshidabad, one of the economically poorer districts of the State, has one of the highest numbers of child marriages in West Bengal

  • The NFHS - 5 points out that 55.4% of women aged 20-24 years are married before the age of 18 years in the district. 

  • The district saw a rise from NFHS-4 numbers, which stood at 53.5 %.

Is it a social problem or a political issue?

  • Along with social issues there are issues regarding implementation of laws on child marriage

  • The Ministry of Women and Child Development in response to a question by MP Chandrani Murmu in August 2023 gave details of cases registered under The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA), 2006 over the past five years across the country

  • In 2021, West Bengal registered 105 cases under PCMA 2006 whereas States with a smaller population and lesser instances of child marriage registered more cases, like Tamil Nadu, which

registered 169 cases, Karnataka 273 and Assam 155 cases respectively.

  • The Ministry also added that to curb child marriage, the Government had introduced the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021 in Parliament in December 2021 for raising the age of marriage of women to 21 years to bring it on par with the men and the Bill has been referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee.

Way forward

  • Experts point out that West Bengal has emerged as an example where cash incentives and existing laws have failed to check child marriages.

  • In 2022, the West Bengal government called for a district action plan to curb child marriage and issued necessary guidelines.

  • In the absence of a social campaign involving all stakeholders including panchayats, schools and local communities and without a political will to enforce the existing laws the situation at the grass roots will not improve as rapidly as it has in other parts of the country.


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