May 12, 2017, New Delhi: Oblivious to the celebration of mothers worldwide on the second Sunday of every May, over 3 million young girls in India are shouldering the responsibilities of motherhood way before their minds and bodies are ready for it. A startling 3.8 million adolescent girls under the age of 19 in India have children, of which 1.4 million girls have 2 or more children before completing their teenage.
While the above stated figures are from Census 2011, the scenario is far from showing signs of improvement. The recently released NFHS 4 (National Family Health Survey 2015-2016) data corroborates this situation, with an estimated 4.5 million girls between 15-19 being pregnant or mothers at the time of the survey.
Being married as child brides at a young age and having born children soon thereafter, these girls suffer far reaching implications mentally and physically, which further impacts their children as well. Dismal maternal care and lack of adequate nutrition especially when their bodies are too young to bear childbirth result in health implications like anaemia and risk of morbidity for the mother and a child who is undernourished.
Early marriage and motherhood deprives girl children of their right to education and as a vicious cycle, lack of access to schooling makes girl children vulnerable to get married off early. It isn’t shocking that 39 percent of adolescent married girls (10-19 years) who have children are illiterate.
Higher the education of mothers, better are the health outcomes for their children. The NFHS 4 data shows that stunting amongst children whose mothers had no education was 51 percent, whereas prevalence of stunting reduced to 31% for children whose mothers had completed school education. Similar trends are seen for other health-related indicators like incidence of under-weight children, percentage of institutional deliveries, complete immunisation of children etc.
Komal Ganotra, Director, Policy, Research and Advocacy at CRY – Child Rights and You adds, “Access to affordable secondary education is extremely critical in order to empower girls since it not only lowers the probability of child marriage, it has a direct impact on their life choices, their own health and the health of their children. It is a cycle of positive change as education also empowers girls to stand up for their rights. Our experience on ground has shown how access to schools has transformed the lives of girls in entire communities, who would otherwise have given in to expected normalcy of child marriage.”
A CRY intervention project in Jagnur in Belgaum district in Karnataka is testament to the impact access to education has on addressing the issue of early marriage, hence preventing early motherhood and the issues it perpetuates. Jagnur had been in news for high incidence of child marriage and the lack of a secondary school in the village, with girls having to stop education mid way, meant, the numbers only increased over the years. Relentless advocacy by CRY project partner Mahila Abhivrudhi Mattu Samrakshana Samasthe (MASS) with local authorities, district education officials, and the Chief Minister of the State finally led to sanction of a government high school after 3 long years. The incidence of child marriage as monitored by CRY partner stood at 64 in 2012-14. Post the high school was operational child marriage number stood at a only 6 in 2015, with child marriage of 49 girls being averted. The transition rate to secondary drastically improved and the drop outs became marginal.
About CRY (www.cry.org)
CRY – Child Rights and You (formerly known as Child Relief and You) is an Indian NGO that believes in every child’s right to a childhood – to live, to learn, grow and play. For over 30 years, CRY and its partners have worked with parents and communities to ensure Lasting Change in the lives of more than 20 lakh underprivileged children.
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