Nearly 50 percent of Indian women marry before 18: Unicef

New Delhi, Nov 20 ( India has a legislation prohibiting child marriage, but latest household surveys indicate that 47 percent of women, who are now aged 20-24 years, were married before the legal age of 18, a Unicef report released Friday said.

The survey also found that nearly 16 percent of men, who are now aged 20-49, were also married as minors.

The special edition of the Unicef State of the World Children Report was launched here Friday to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) by the UN General Assembly. India ratified the convention in 1992.

“The 2005-2006 National Family Health Survey shows sharp divergences in access to essential services and key development outcomes across ethnic, gender and wealth strata. These disparities extend to child protection, given the country’s moderate rate of birth registration (69 percent) and high rate of child marriage,” the report said.

The report also says that fewer under-five children are dying as the mortality has fallen from 117 births per 100 in 1990 to 72 in 2007. More children have access to improved drinking water, rising from 62 percent in 1992-1993 to 88 percent in 2005-2006.

School enrolments have also gone up from 1992-93 to 2005-06. The report finds that attendance rates for girls aged 6 to 10 have increased from 61 to 81 percent, “helping raise the gender parity rate for primary education from 0.82 percent to 0.96 percent”.

India’s progress reflects a global phenomenon of change towards realising the rights of children, Karin Holshof, Unicef India representative, said while releasing the report.

The report also outlines India’s challenges, saying that social problems hindering realistion of child rights “can’t be overcome overnight”.

“It is uncertain how the 2008-2009 global fuel, food and economic crises will affect the country’s social progress. As all three threaten to undermine India’s economic growth, there is a grave risk that the share of people living in absolute poverty will increase, possibly slowing or even stalling recent moderate gains in child survival, health and education,” the report said.