Over 21% men and 10% women in Madhya Pradesh are made to tie the knot by their relatives before attaining the legal age for marriage, the annual health survey for 2012-13 has revealed.
The report, brought out by the registrar general of census commissioner in collaboration with the Institute of Economic Growth, showed that Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh recorded the highest number of such marriages among males – running up to 55.3% — among various districts spread across as many as nine states surveyed in this regard.
Health officials said the household sample for the study was 4.3 million, making it the biggest exercise of the kind in the world.
The other states that figured in the study were Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
Among the 21.3% males married below the legal age of 21 in Madhya Pradesh, the maximum (55.3 %) were from Jhabua district and minimum from Hoshangabad district (4.2%). In the case of females, the highest number of such cases were from Tikamgarh district (27.1%) and lowest from Balaghat (1.1%).
Overall, Rajasthan had the highest percentage of under-age marriages among men (27.5%), while Uttarakhand had the lowest (5.5%).
According to health experts, tying the knot before attaining the legal age for marriage has direct implications on the health and literacy rates of both males and females. Not surprisingly, the survey shows that the effective literacy rate was the lowest in Jhabua – at 46.6% – among the districts of all the nine states featured in the study.
The data also showed that the number of illiterate married women in the district came up to a startling 84.5%, by far the highest among all the places surveyed.
Accordingly, the survey showed that Madhya Pradesh was the only state in the country with a district – Morena – that featured a sex ratio as abysmal as 793 females per 1,000 males. Even overall, the state had the lowest sex ratio with a count of 920 females per 1,000 males.
According to woman activist Upasana Behar, underage marriages contribute to many other maladies that affect society’s well-being as a whole.
“A large number of children born to teenage girls are malnourished because the girls’ bodies are not fully ready to conceive. These kids, even if they survive, suffer in every sphere of life — whether it’s education or employment. We need to prevent underage marriages, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon,” she said.
Upma Rai, former chairperson of the state women’s commission, said early marriages are very much a part of the customs and traditions of tribals.
“Madhya Pradesh has the largest tribal population in the country. It is the duty of the state government to reach out to these people, who mostly stay in rural areas, and spread awareness on the negative aspects of marrying early. At present, awareness drives are confined to urban areas of the state. They need to move deep into its rural zones,” she said.
18 districts among the worst 100 districts in child nutritional deprivation index
60.3% cases of undernourished children in the 5-18 age group recorded in Sagar
56.8% stunting recorded at Tikamgarh. MP recorded the highest inter-district range.
14.8 % severe anaemia in the age bracket of 10-17 years group in MP (highest prevalence)
46.6% lowest effective literacy rate in Jhabua district
793 females per 1,000 males in Morena district (lowest child sex ratio)