The Real Reason for Popularity of Child Marriage in India

When we think of the bad practices of our Indian culture, child marriage is always mentioned as one of them. Indeed child marriage is a bad practice as it caused the death of numerous minor girls and their babies during child birth. Even then the custom of child marriage was quite prevalent in India, why? Without thinking much as lot of people put the blame on the foolishness of our ancestors. In this article lets analyze child marriage more deeply.

The custom of child marriage is portrayed as something that was unique to just our culture, however this isn’t the case at all. Child marriage has been practiced all across the world up until the 19th century and this includes western countries as well. In some of states in the US you can marry at the age 14 with parental consent, even today.

Why Child Marriages were Popular

So why was child marriage practiced up until 19th century in India and all across the world. In modern times we are very fortunate to have ample food to eat and good medical attention. So the life expectancy of human beings has been on a steep rise. Moreover most of us are certain that all our babies will survive and reach adulthood. As a consequence we have the luxury to take our time and postpone reproduction.

Up until 19th century, humans did not have this luxury. The life expectancy of human beings was a mere 30–40 years. Raising a human child is huge undertaking. It takes 18 years to raise a human child to adulthood. On top of that the infant mortality rate has been quite high in all the societies. Up until the 1900s only 50% of children used to get to the age of 5 in India . Considering that a woman can only be fertile up until her 40s it made a lot of sense for a couple to start reproducing as soon as possible. Therefore parents used to marry their sons and daughters as soon as they were ready to reproduce. Also unlike now, in the old times, education of children was not very important, and so it was apt for both young men and women to take up the responsibility of raising children early on.

Another reason that gets mentioned as the cause of child marriage is that the Indian parents used to think of unmarried girls as a burden to be free of. Now people generally say that this was because of our evil custom of dowry. But this does not make sense, a father has to give dowry whether he marries his girl at 14 or 25. In such a situation one might as well marry her later so that you do not have to give gifts to in-laws for 10 extra years. So no, Dowry is not the reason for child marriage. The reasons are two, mentioned below:

1. Risk: It was very risky to keep an unmarried girl at home in those days. In those days there was no police or law and order. As a girl used to reach puberty, the risk of someone abducting or raping her used to increase. If any of this happened then nobody would marry her, thus her life will be ruined.

2. Poverty: People used to be very poor in those days and did not even have enough to eat. Parents wanted to get their girls married as soon as possible so that they have one less mouth to feed in their home,

Why has Child Marriage Lost Popularity?

The problem with child marriage is that under such a practice the girls are married off before they have properly attained puberty. The complications during childbirth therefore increase. The whole child bearing process becomes risky for both the mother and the child. In the old times though, there was risk in waiting as well. Since you were expected to live only till your 30s to 40s, and considering the fact that it takes 20 years to raise a human child, you had to start early. Now add to that the fact that half of your children are going to die, you can see that you are taking enormous risk by delaying child birth. In the modern times when those other risks have been minimized, marrying your daughter early on is no longer worth the risk. Therefore child marriage has lost popularity.

Should Indians be Ashamed of Child Marriage Tradition?

In India we are often told Child Marriage is an evil tradition of our culture. However as mentioned previously, this is not something that was unique to India, but was and is prevalent worldwide. Now, it is true that 8–12 year old children used to be married in India, but it should be kept in mind that it was only the marriage ceremony that was performed at that age, the girl still used to live with her parents until she reached puberty.

We make a very big deal of child marriage in India mentioning that even now people criticize that child marriage is practiced rampantly in India. Is it really that bad? People claim that India has the largest amount of child brides. Well considering that India is a young and populous country this should be no surprise. The more important metric to look for is births per 1000 teenage women. Have a look at it in the map below, clearly India does not appear any worse than countries such as USA and Russia. Surely things can better but they are not as bad as the media wants you to think.

So instead of blaming our ancestors for following such practices and cursing our culture, let us try to first try to understand why such practices existed and then make a judgment. Blindly blaming our culture just creates an inferiority complex

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