The figures come from the 2011 data sheet The World’s Women and Girls, produced by the Washington-based Population Reference Bureau.
Bangladesh’s early marriage rate is even higher than India’s. It’s Pakistan that brings down the regional average, with a pre-18 marriage figure around half that of India’s.
India’s early marriage rate has dropped by about seven percent over the past 20 years, as it has done in other countries in the region, according to UNICEF figures.
But with a lack of educational opportunities for teenage girls, government education schemes for younger children could actually be encouraging teen marriage indirectly, Professor Vibhuti Patel of Mumbai’s SNDT Women’s University told the Times of India.
Thanks to state education programmes, young children are now able to go to school, so older girls are less often called on to look after younger brothers and sisters, the professor argues. But adolescent girls commonly drop out of school, and there’s no vocational training available for them. Concerned that daughters with time on their hands will end up dating and pregnant, parents feel pressure to get them married off.
Western countries don’t warrant a mention in UNICEF’s child marriage statistics. Yet in Europe and in the US, although the marriageable age is 18, it drops to 16 with parental consent – even younger in a few European countries and US states.
Meanwhile, the legal age for marriage in India is 18 for girls and 21 for boys. It’s a law that’s clearly widely flouted. According to UNICEF, India accounts for 40 percent of the world’s child marriages.
How young is too young to get married? What do you think?