The Reality of Early and Forced Marriages in India

Despite the fact that the idea of romantic love is depicted and celebrated in Indian media, Bollywood and folklore, the truth is that arranged, early and forced marriages are traditional in South Asian society. This tradition is thought to have begun within the Indian subcontinent when the historical Vedic religion gave way over time to classical Hinduism. This established a culture of patriarchy and rules based on caste.

According to UNICEF, 48% of women in South Asia are forced to marry before they are 18. The average age different in an arranged marriage is that the male is 4.5 years older. This means that nearly half of women in India and other South Asian countries are marrying while they are in the teens to men older than they are. Approximately 18% of girls (nearly 1 in 5) are married before they are 15 years old. These teenage brides do not often give their consent and even if they did, one could easily argue that they are too young to make such choices and that they are coerced by the adults in their life.

Of course, there is a different between a forced marriage and an arranged marriage. An arranged marriage is when the family of the spouses take a leading role within setting up the marriage, but are given consent to do so by the couple themselves. However, in a forced marriage one or both of the individuals don’t consent to the arrangement and they are under coercion or duress.

Indian laws have made child marriage illegal, but it is still being practiced across the nation. Some of the highest rates of child marriage occur in the rural areas of Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. According to UNICEF, a child marriage is any marriage that takes place when either of the parties involved is under the age of 18.

Child marriage also has roots within Indian culture and is thought to have begun during the medieval ages. During this time, there was an absolute monarchy government rules by the Delhi Sultans, who introduced the practice of child marriage. They spread the idea that young unmarried girls were a bad omen that would cause disaster and child marriage began, with many girls being married off when they were only infants. Child marriage was also practiced to ensure that the strong caste system was carried on and that people did not marry outside of their castes. It was important to perform the marriage while the children were still young and susceptible to the influence of their parents, so that the marriage could be used to strengthen family alliances.

Forced child marriage has a number of negative consequences on the young bride. These girls are twice as likely to die in childbirth as women between the ages of 20 and 24. Infants born to mothers under 18 are also 60% more susceptible to dying within their first year. Also, the young teenage brides are more likely to experience sexual abuse and violence.

Plan UK is determined to stop early and forced marriages in India. Contact the charity today or visit