Authors: Priya Nanda - Sonvi Kapoor - Sushmita Mukherjee - Marcy Hersh

Sharmishtha Basu - Rashi Bhargava


Publication Date: March 1, 2011


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This report examines the social norms surrounding child marriage, positive role models, community engagement, and government-led efforts to prevent the practice in the Indian states of Rajasthan and Bihar, which have some of the highest prevalence rates of early marriage in the country. (Almost 69% of girls in Bihar and 65.2% in Rajasthan are married before reaching the legal age of 18 years.) Findings from the study, undertaken by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) with the supervision of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) India and the financial support of the European Commission, reveal that deeply entrenched norms are slowly changing through promising interventions to delay marriage and encourage girls' education. The report also makes recommendations toward the development of an integrated intervention strategy to delay marriage for girls by enhancing girls' access to education, empowerment, community mobilisation, partnership with media, and strengthening of law enforcement.

The study comprised of 170 in-depth interviews (IDIs), focus group discussions (FGDs), state level stakeholder meetings, and key informant interviews.

Excerpts from the report follow:
"Key Findings

  1. Gender norms and expectations affect girls' value and role in the community. In the study areas in both Rajasthan and Bihar, there are expectations that girls will help with domestic chores, learn to undertake household responsibilities and get prepared for marriage. Community members often do not perceive any alternative roles for girls. These gendered expectations are prioritised over sending girls to school, especially beyond the primary level...
  2. Economic considerations motivate child marriage...
  3. Role model individuals value education and aspire for alternative roles for girls....They do face potential stigma and exclusion but articulate a resolve to educate their daughters and even allow them to pursue careers beyond completion of schooling.
  4. Lack of public education infrastructure, facilities and teachers affect motivation to send girls to school....Middle and secondary school locations are often a significant distance from rural homes, raising concerns about the safety of young girls, particularly when they reach puberty...
  5. There are increasing signs of change, enabling girls' access to education...These include nongovernmental organisation (NGO) led shivirs or education camps, government run residential schools and a NGO led boarding home for girls....While these platforms for change exits, interestingly, vocational training programmes that build livelihood skills are rare in all four districts.
  6. Lack of public awareness and weak enforcement of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006...
  7. Local NGOs and community groups actively work to delay child marriage and address social norms...
  8. Government schemes to discourage child marriage lack correspondence and outreach...

Recommendations ...[I]ntersectoral collaboration between the various stakeholders, including the government, local and international NGOs, the media, and communities, is a key recommendation.

The following specific recommendations articulate the integrated intervention.

  1. Increase girls' access to high quality education....A major challenge is to ensure that girls can continue beyond the fifth year of school in those places where middle and secondary schools are located at a significant distance outside the village....Programmes for promoting more years of schooling for girls should also be explored, which can include financial support to low income families, increasing vocational and livelihoods training, providing or subsidising girls' transportation to school and increased parent-teacher communications.
  2. Strengthen awareness and enforcement of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006....Training camps and workshops need to be organised for government officials in order to sensitise them as to the gravity of the issue and the need for action....In addition, community members lack complete information about the law's punitive measures....The study's recommendation is to address this through community sensitisation meetings as part of advocacy campaigns at each village, highlighting both the punitive measures of the law, along with the importance of alternatives to marriage and the benefits of educating the girl child.
  3. Scale up successful and promising interventions...
  4. Create an enabling environment and advocate for change. An integrated strategy will depend on developing effective advocacy and information dissemination campaigns at the village, district and state levels to encourage individual behaviour change. A key element of an effective communications and awareness generation strategy should be showcasing positive role models to highlight the reasons why they do not support early marriage, including the benefits they perceive from delaying marriage. In addition, educating, protecting and empowering young girls through life skills classes is an already proven strategy for effectively delaying the age of marriage, as demonstrated in previous studies. Families and communities, including boys and men, also need to be involved in the process of shifting norms by sensitising them about the risks associated with child marriage. We recommend supporting this cooperation through the creation of formalised groups and networks...
  5. Use the media to reach the community....A comprehensive media approach can engage a wide spectrum of community groups and catalyse change in the norms around child marriage. In rural areas, consistent messages through a variety of different media, including radio, local theatre productions, puppet shows, mobile units and billboards should be carried out. These media should especially help to laud and spread awareness about positive deviants in the community."