The recent supreme court ruling that having sex with a minor wife amounts to rape, could be a huge relief for underage girls in Rajasthan, where 6.3 per cent of the total women population between 15 and 19 years are already mothers or been pregnant.
According to the 2011 Census, 31.6 per cent of girls in Rajasthan weremarried before the age of 18. A more recent survey by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) 2015-16 pointed to an even higher number, with 35.4 percent of girls aged between 20 and 24 years getting married before attaining the legal age.
Rajasthan, which has the highest cases of child marriage in the country, reported at least 366 divorcees between 10 and 14 years. The report also points out that there are 3,506 'widowed' and 2,855 'separated' children within the same age group.
NFHS-4 figures show that more men are married before they attain the legal age of 21as compared to women. According to the report, 35.7 per cent of men (25-29 years) got married before they turned 21.
Even though the percentage of minors who are already mothers or pregnant has come down from 16 per cent to 6.3 per cent in the past 10 years, the state still has a long way to go as the practice is deeply entrenched in peoples' minds. It is common to get children married on designated auspicious days. The state also has a tradition of attasatta or exchange of brides.
There is also a tradition called Nyas when a member of a family dies, the family members get their children married within 13 days of death toensure peace for the departing sould. In 2016, the directorate of womenempowerment, depart ment of women and child development launched a joint campaign Sanjha Abhiyan to address the issue of child marriage.
"The state strategic action plan developed by the state government hasshown results with girls getting opportunities to complete their education and realise their aspirations in life," said United Nations Population Fund state programme co-ordinator Sunil Thomas Jacob.