"Premature pregnancy and motherhood are an inevitable consequence of child marriage. Girls under 15 are five times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than women in their twenties."
-State of the World's Children 2007, UNICEF
UNICEF defines child marriage as marriage before 18 years of age and considers this practise as a violation of human rights. The harmful consequences of child marriage are segregation from family and friends, limiting the child's interactions with the community and peers, lack of opportunities for education. Girl children often face situations of bonded labour, enslavement, commercial sexual exploitation and violence as a result of child marriage. Because of lack of protection child brides are often exposed to serious health risks, early pregnancy, and various STDs especially HIV/AIDS. There are many reasons why parents consent to child marriage such as economic necessity, male protection for their daughters, child bearing, or oppressive traditional values and norms. Globally more than one third of the women between the ages 20-24 were married before they reached the age of 18. Approximately 14 million adolescent girls between the ages 15-19 give birth each year. Girls in this age group are twice more likely to die during child birth than women in their twenties. Rate of child marriage are higher in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
According to the 2001 census there are 1.5 million girls, in India, under the age of 15 already married. Of these, 20% or approximately 300,000 are mothers to at least one child. The 2001 census also estimated the average age of marriage has risen to 18.3 for females. The male average is 22.6 years. But child marriage is still widespread across the nation. States like Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Andra Pradesh still have average age of marriage below the legal age of eighteen for females. Because of the early and often closely timed pregnancies before their bodies are able to handle the stress of pregnancy, adolescent mothers give birth prematurely or to low weight babies. The health of the child and mother are at risk and often they do not survive. Child marriage also makes girls more vulnerable to domestic violence, sexual abuse and inability to complete primary education. It is also found that infant mortality rates are higher than the national average in the states where child marriage is highly prevalent.
According to NFHS-III survey 47.3% of women aged 20-24 were married by age 18. Of these, 2.6 percent were married before they turned 13, 22.6 percent were married before they were 16, and 44.5 percent were married when they were between 16 and 17. In some states the percentage is quite high: Rajasthan 65.2%, Uttar Pradesh 58.6%, Madhya Pradesh 57.3%, Jharkhand 63.2%, Chhattisgarh 55%, Bihar 69% and Andra Pradesh 54.8%.The states where prevalence is low are Himachal Pradesh 12.3%, Punjab 19.7%, and Kerala 15.4%.
Child marriage in India has grave implications for population control as adolescent brides are likely to have high fertility and a number of unwanted pregnancies. States where child marriage is most prevalent is also where there is the highest population. Child marriage is low among women who have had access to higher education and secondary education. Marriages in India are often unregistered, and are socially binding if not legally, which makes it hard to survey.
In 2006 the government of India update legislations regarding child marriage and passed the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006.