• Crackdown on child marriage doesn’t address real causes: girls’ education & women’s jobs
  • Thousands are being arrested in Assam as part of a crackdown on child marriage even though studies from across the world and in India have shown that educational attainment and socio-economic status of a household are the most significant correlates of child marriage.
  • Assam, where almost 86% of the population is rural, has among the largest proportion of rural women who haven’t completed 10 or more years of schooling, roughly 74%.


  • Girls skipping school
  • “Among individual characteristics, the level of education of females has the most profound impact on the age they marry, irrespective of household wealth, locality and other characteristics.”
  • According to the latest National Family Health Survey (2019-21), about one-third of rural women in the 20-24 age group in Assam were married before the age of 18.
  • There are only two states – West Bengal (48%) and Jharkhand (36%) – with a higher proportion of rural women in this age group who were married before 18 and they have roughly the same proportion of women who did not complete more than 10 years of schooling as Assam, about 74%.
  • Instead of doubling down on improving schooling for girls by investing in more schools and improving the condition of existing schools, in September last year, the Assam government announced that over 1,700 government-run elementary schools were being shut down and merged with neighbouring schools in keeping with the school ‘rationalisation’ recommended by Niti Aayog.
  • Such mergers usually hurt girl students the most as they often have to travel longer distances to go to school.
  • This results in girls being pulled out of school citing safety concerns. Parents’ fear about the safety of girls in public spaces is another reason for pushing girls into early marriages.
  • Limited paid work opportunities for women and girls are another factor that contributes to early marriage.
  • Assam happens to be the state with the second lowest female worker population ratio of just 14. 2%.
  • According to Niti Aayog’s multidimensional poverty estimates, the proportion of the population recognised as vulnerable vis-à-vis food and nutrition security under National Food Security Act as priority households is the third highest in Assam, 71. 2%.


  • “Drive against child marriage is for public health and public welfare” as teenage pregnancy ratio in Assam was as high as 16. 8%.
  • Incidentally, some of the districts with the highest proportion of teenage pregnancy also happen to be those with a high proportion of marriages before 18 years.
  • Many of these are also the ones in which a large number of elementary schools were shut down or merged.
  • Poor quality and inaccessibility of facilities and services, whether in health or education, would contribute to teenage pregnancies as poorly educated women are the most vulnerable.
  • There have been charges that the crackdown was meant to target Muslims, which the government has denied.
  • Though a Muslim girl can marry on completing 15 years or when she attains puberty according to Muslim personal law – a provision being challenged before the Supreme Court – child marriage is not exclusive to the community.
  • According to the 2011 Census, 84% of the 12 million children (7. 8 million girls) who married before 10 years in India were Hindus and mostly from rural India. No community factors here.
  • Moreover, Jammu and Kashmir, with 68% Muslim population, has the second lowest proportion of marriages before 18 years of age (5. 3%).
  • Its proportion was low even in the NFHS survey of 2005-06, just 14.
  • 4%, an indication of the influence of socio-cultural norms on the marital age of women.
  • More than 46% of rural women in J&K have 10 or more years of schooling.
  • Similarly, in Kerala with almost 27% Muslim population, the proportion of rural women in the 20-24 age group who were married before 18 was just 8. 2%.
  • The proportion of women with 10 or more years of schooling in rural Kerala was over 75%.
  • At the same time, in Jharkhand where Muslims constitute barely 15% of the population, the proportion of marriages before 18 in the same age group is as high as 36%.
  • While for each individual factor contributing to child marriage there might be states doing worse than Assam, in Assam several of these factors coexist, contributing to a high proportion of marriages before 18 years of age among women.
  • In effect, people, mostly the poorest, are being punished through the much publicised arrests, for the state’s failure to provide good quality schooling and health facilities and its inability to empower its women.


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