Srinagar- While the national average of underage girl marriages has come down in recent years, J&K has earned disrepute as the percentage of underage girls getting married has significantly flared up in 8 years. Overall, the proportion of women who were married before attaining 18 years of age increased by 0.9 percent from 2012 until 2020.
As per an analysis of the Sample Registration System (SRS) reports, the percentage of underage female marriages has increased to 1.1 percent in 2020 against a considerably lower rate of 0.2 percent in 2012.
The SRS report is the most regular source of demographic statistics in India and is the only official source of demographic data except decadal censuses in India.
According to the data, while most states had recorded over 1 percent underage marriages in India, J&K had the lowest share in such marriages in 2012. However, the graph saw a vicious increase in 2020, as J&K was ranked 12th in India.
The facts emerging from the analysis clearly reveal that in 2014 the percentage of underage marriages had increased to 1.7 percent. However, the rate came down to 1.5 percent in 2015 but took a substantial leap in 2016 as the overall percentage touched 1.6 percent.
As per the data, in 2017 J&K’s share in such cases increased to 1.8 percent. But, in 2018, J&K again saw a decrease as the overall percentage came down to 1.5 percent. The Union Territory’s overall percentage of underage marriages took another leap in 2019 when the rate increased to 1.6 percent.
A cursory look at the data also reveals that the percentage of such marriages was higher in rural J&K than urban J&K. In 2012, rural J&K contributed 0.3 percent of underage marriages and urban J&K accounted for 0.2 percent. And in 2020, rural J&K’s share increased to 1.2 percent while urban J&K hadn’t recorded any such case.
“The numbers are disheartening, not only because they speak of the instances of child marriages increasing but also because this social evil comes with many other disempowerment indicators. It means that many girls are not getting education, are not leading their lives with dignity and are being deprived of the possibility to live a hopeful life,” says Srinagar based rights activist Tania Sayeed.
Pertinently, in May, Kashmir Observer had reported that Jammu & Kashmir had recorded the second lowest percentage of underage marriages for women across India, according to the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS) report.
Among the states and Union Territories, J&K and Ladakh had recorded a 6 percent (each) average of underage marriages for women while at the National level about twenty-five percent of women aged 18-29 were married before reaching the legal minimum age, the report said.
“In any conflict zone, the social fabric gets affected. We’ve seen how post 1990s insurgency, women especially girls under 18 years of age were visualized as soft targets for men. However, that trend changed after 2010. But, 2019 onwards, the social fabric degraded due to the economic distress and inflation, pushing women to the edge,” says an official from the Social Welfare Department.
The official further said that due to economic and mental distress, a family finds a young girl as the easiest person to get rid of. “To lower their economic burden, they get these young girls married even before they attain the legal age. Lack of proper Guidance and awareness is one of the primary reasons behind the rising percentage of underage marriages in J&K. In rural J&K, child pregnancies are also found to be very normal because of the lack of awareness,” the official said.
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