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Rise of Child Marriages in West Bengal

  • 09 Jan 2024
  • 9 min read

For Prelims: Child marriage, Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 (PCMA), Kanyashree Prakalpa Scheme,

For Mains: Major Factors Associated with Child Marriage, Legislative Framework and Initiatives Related to Child Marriage in India.

Source: TH

Why in News?

A recent Lancet study on child marriage in India highlighted an overall decrease in child marriage across the country. However, it emphasized that certain states, specifically Bihar (16.7%), West Bengal (15.2%), Uttar Pradesh (12.5%), and Maharashtra (8.2%), collectively contributed to over half of the total headcount burden of child marriages in girls.

  • Despite the implementation of multiple policy interventions in West Bengal aimed at curbing child marriage, the region has experienced a substantial surge of 32.3% in the incidence of child marriages. This increase corresponds to over 500,000 additional girls getting married as children.


  • National Family Health Survey-5 ( 2019-21):
    • The National Family Health Survey-5 indicates that the prevalence of women aged 20-24 years married before 18 remains high in West Bengal at 41.6%, compared to the national figure of 23.3%.

Has Policy Intervention in West Bengal Effectively Curbed Child Marriage?

  • Policy Interventions to Stop CHild Marriage in West Bengal:
    • The Kanyashree Prakalpa Scheme:
      • Launched in 2013, Kanyashree Prakalpa incentivizes the schooling of teenage girls aged 13 to 18 while simultaneously discouraging child marriage. The scheme has covered 81 lakh girls, according to the West Bengal Budget for 2023-24.
        • The scheme received international recognition with the United Nations Public Service Award in 2017.
      • While the school enrolment of girls has increased in the State, questions are being posed based on National Family Health Survey data and the Lancet study of whether the scheme has achieved its promise of arresting child marriage.
    • Rupashree Prakalpa:
      • In addition to Kanyashree, the state government runs the Rupashree Prakalpa, providing cash incentives for girls' marriages.
        • Some families utilize benefits from both schemes, organizing marriages shortly after cashing in on the school scheme.
  • Educational Stride and Child Marriage Rates:
    • Despite girl’s enrolment in schools has “significantly increased over the past few years and yet the incidence of child marriage remains high in West Bengal”.
      • The All-India Survey of Higher Education for 2020-21 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.
    • As per NFHS- 5, the Purba Medinipur district with over 88% literacy rate has the highest incidence of child marriage of more than 57.6%.
    • Experts noted migration in West Bengal fuels child marriage as families fear leaving unmarried daughters behind, driven by societal norms and economic factors.
      • This perpetuates a cycle where cultural expectations prioritize early marriages for wives to bear children while men work.
  • Challenges in Law Implementation:
    • Beyond social issues, challenges in law implementation contribute to the persistence of child marriage.
      • As West Bengal's 105 cases under The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA), 2006 in 2021 raise concerns. Because comparatively, states with smaller populations reported more cases.
    • The Ministry introduced the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021, proposing raising the age of marriage for women to 21, currently under Parliamentary review.
      • The data suggests gaps in law enforcement and highlights the need for comprehensive strategies.

What are the Impacts of Child Marriage?

  • Ending Childhood:
    • Child marriage is a global problem and is compounded by poverty. It abruptly ends a boy’s/girl's childhood, pushing them into adulthood before they are physically and mentally prepared.
      • Arranged marriages often involve girls marrying significantly older men, intensifying the challenges they face.
      • Early marriage significantly decreases the likelihood of girls staying in school, leading to lifelong economic repercussions.
      • Child marriage leads childhood grooms to drop out of school and often settle for low-paying jobs to provide for their families.
      • Child brides and grooms often experience isolation and have their freedom curtailed, limiting their social interactions and personal autonomy.
  • Human Rights Violation:
    • 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.
    • Child brides are frequently denied their fundamental rights, including access to health, education, safety, and the opportunity for active participation.
    • United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) categorizes child marriage as a human rights violation due to its adverse impacts on the development of both girls and boys.
      • Each year, some 12 million more girls will marry before reaching age 18 and of those, 4 million are under age 15.
      • Save the Children’s Global Girlhood Report estimates that an additional 2.5 million girls are at risk of child marriage globally between 2020 and 2025, as a result of reported increases in all types of gender-based violence due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Maternal and Child Health Implications:
    • The adverse impact of child marriage extends to maternal and child health.
      • Child brides often become pregnant during adolescence, when the risk of complications during pregnancy and childbirth increases. The practice can also isolate girls from family and friends, taking a heavy toll on their mental health.
    • Child brides are also more susceptible to contracting Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

What are the Initiatives to Tackle Child Marriage?

Way Forward

  • Mobilize political will at both state and national levels to prioritize the eradication of child marriage through legislative measures.
    • Conduct social campaigns 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.
  • Promote a culture of reporting and transparency by regularly updating and providing detailed information on child marriage cases under PCMA 2006.
    • Facilitate a comprehensive review of PCMA 2006 to identify loopholes and areas for improvement in enforcement.
  • Advocate for the swift approval of the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021, by the Parliamentary Standing Committee.
    • The Bill amends the PCMA 2006 to increase the minimum age of marriage of females to 21 years. Further, the Bill will override any other law, custom, or practice.
  • Empower girls with information, skills, and support networks for increased autonomy and decision-making.

UPSC Civil Services Examination Previous Year Question (PYQ)


Q. Examine the main provisions of the National Child Policy and throw light on the status of its implementation. (2016).

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