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Child marriages in India down by 20%, weddings delayed by 2.3 years where women are panchayat chiefs: Report

By Our Representative
A just-published paper, “Political role models and child marriage in India”, has concluded that the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments, enacted in 1993, which stipulate reservation of pradhans’ positions in one-third of districts by rotation, has led to a situation where the “likelihood of child marriage decreases by 20 percentage points, and age at marriage increases by 2.3 years”, even as delaying the “gauna ceremony is delayed by 1.6 years.”
Authored by Prof Carolina Castilla of the Colgate University, Hamilton, New York, and supported United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research, the paper draws on data from the India Human Development Survey (IHDS), collected by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), New Delhi, and researchers at the University of Maryland.
Castilla says, “In India, marriage traditions dictate that two ceremonies take place: the wedding and the gauna ceremony. These differ in timing and purpose. After the wedding, the bride and groom do not necessarily live together. The gauna ceremony indicates the start of marital life and the consummation of the marriage.”
The paper states, as women in local government are likely to discourage child marriage, even as encourage delay the age at first marriage and the gauna ceremony, the amendments have had “important policy implications for both the bride and her future children as it improves education, autonomy over fertility, and health. The results indicate that after 18 years of implementation, exposure to women in government can reduce the prevalence of child marriage.”
The paper says, “The legal minimum age of marriage in India is 18 and the minimum age of consent is 16. Yet the average age at first marriage in the sample is 17.6, with 46 percent reporting that they married before they turned 18. There is less than a year’s difference between age at marriage and gauna.”
The paper asserts, “There are statistically significant differences between women who married after the first election with reserved seats for women relative to both women in never-reserved districts and those who married before the first election with reserved seats. Women who married after being exposed to women Pradhans on an average married 1.8 years later, and delayed the gauna ceremony by 1.3 years.”
“Further”, it adds, “The prevalence of child marriage is 22 percentage points lower among women who married after the first election with women in local leadership positions.”
Pointing out how the amendments have worked over the years, the paper says, “Women in districts that held elections with reserved seats before to 2000 marry between 1.1 and 2.3 years later than women in the same district who married before the policy. Age at marriage increases by 0.6 to 1 year among women who married after the 2000 to 2003 elections, and increases by one additional year (1.3 to 1.9 years relative to the early elections) after the 2005 election.”
Similarly, the paper says, “After exposure to women in government, women delay their gauna ceremonies by 0.6 to 1.6 years. The effect of women Pradhans is larger among women who married between the 1997 and 2005 elections, and then increases once more after the 2006 to 2007 elections. There is evidence that the two different marriage ceremonies are converging. Age at marriage responds more to exposure to women Pradhans than age at gauna, which is expected as brides are more likely to be beyond the age of consent.”
Suggesting that the reservation policy has also impact socially backward communities, the paper says, “Women in backward and scheduled castes or tribes marry at a small but statistically younger age and have their gauna ceremonies earlier.” However, “the age at marriage increases by 4 months, and the likelihood of child marriage decreases by 5 percentage points” among them “after the first election under the policy”, though “age at gauna does not show any significant differences.”

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