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Child marriage more prevalent among Gujarat's rural rich compared to middle and poorer groups: UNICEF study

By Rajiv Shah
A new United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) study, which seeks to give policy directions to India on how to reduce child marriage, has said that in Gujarat's rural areas, the despicable practice is “strongly associated with caste membership”, and underlines, “Child marriage rates are highest among richer, high caste girls.” 
The study -- titled “Reducing Child Marriage in India A model to scale up results”, by Jyotsna Jha and scholars from the Centre for Budget and Policy Studies, Bangalore -- quotes a Gujarat government document, to point towards howpoor education of teenage girls has led to the high prevalence of child marriage in the state.
The 2015 document, Joint Review Mission for the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan, says, “For every 100 boys enrolled, only 69 girls are enrolled at secondary level in Gujarat”, adding, “The gaps exist for all social groups but are higher for OBCs [Other Backward Classes] and Muslims.” 
“The gap further widens if one takes the number of boys and girls appearing for the class 10 board examinations”, the document further says, adding, “Several reasons were cited during our interactions: distance, lack of transport, parental lack of interest and child marriage being more important than others.”
Giving the example of Patan and Jamnagar districts from Gujarat, the study says, "The richer groups in these districts hold on to the practice of child marriage much more in situations where it is no longer a widespread phenomenon.” 
Thus, in Patan, situated in North Gujarat, the prevalence of child marriage in the age group 10 to 18 is as low as 15.5 per cent in the poor wealth quintile, rising to 27.8 per cent in the middle wealth quintile, and to 56.7 in the rich wealth quantile. 
Similarly, in Jamnagar, situated in Saurashtra region, the prevalence of child marriage in the poor wealth quintile is just 4.6, is 13.7 per cent in middle wealth quintile, but a whopping 81.7 per cent in the rich wealth quantile.
Providing examples from two districts each from four other states – Bihar, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Telangana – the report, interestingly, finds a similar trend prevailing all other states but Bihar. It finds that in in Bihar's two  districts -- Jamui and Siwan -- there is higher incidence of child marriage among poorer groups compared to middle and rich groups.
The report regrets, “The existing literature does not suggest any clear explanation for this variation, and for the fact that child marriage is not necessarily linked solely to poverty”, but adds, “One possible explanation lies in child marriage being strongly linked to social and community norms in these states.”
Giving example of the custom of atta satta in Gujarat, which refers to the practice of one set of brother and sister being married to another set of brother and sister, the study says, “Sibling marriage and a form of atta satta, known as saata, are common in Gujarat. In the event of irreconcilable differences of one couple, the other couple has to perforce break their marriage as well.”
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*Download report HERE

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