Child Marriage and Early Child-bearing in India: Risk Factors and Policy Implications

Jennifer Roest
Policy paper

Prevalence rates of child marriage and early child-bearing have been declining across India over the past two decades, but absolute numbers remain high. The paper uses data collected from 3,000 children over 15 years in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, to provide an evidence base from which to strengthen policy and programming in this area.

An ecological life-course framework is used to explore the causes of child marriage and early child-bearing and the factors which help to prevent them. Young Lives findings show that

  • girls who stay in school for longer marry later, but gender gaps in enrolment widen through adolescence;
  • where resources are limited, gendered social risks become more acute and parents are forced to make decisions which disadvantage girls;
  • aspirations matter but reflect wider realities;
  • social norms that encourage early child-bearing are compounded by inequitable access to health and education services.

Whilst child marriage and early child-bearing are driven by entrenched patriarchal norms regarding the role and value of girls (and women) in society, structural factors are critical. Poverty and social disadvantage constrain girls’ opportunities and exacerbate the risks they face, forcing individuals and families to maintain ‘normal’ practices, thus reinforcing norms. An ecological life-course framework helps to demonstrate the need for a layered strategy to tackle the gendered disadvantages which drive child marriage and early child-bearing.