As per the latest NCRB data, child marriage cases rose by around 50% in 2020 compared to the previous year. Experts note that not only does this suggest that there has been an increase in these occurrences, but that there has also been an increase in reporting. The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act was used in 785 cases in 2020, according to the NCRB.
With 184 cases, Karnataka has the most to deal with, followed by Assam with 138, West Bengal with 98, and Tamil Nadu with 77. According to the act, in 2019, there were 523 cases registered, while in 2018, there were 501 cases. Data shows that in 2018, there were 501 cases reported under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act; in 2017, there were 395; in 2016, there were 326, and in 2015, there were 293. Indian law defines child marriage as a union between a man and a woman who are both under the age of 21 at the time of the marriage.
Sanjog's Roop Sen, a founding member of the Indian Leadership Forum Against Trafficking, a national platform run by and for survivors of human trafficking, said the rise in cases could be attributable to various circumstances.
"It is a mix of both increased reporting and instances. There have been increased incidences of adolescents girls falling in love and eloping and getting married that also contribute to increased number of child marriages." "Many grassroot organisations say a distinction must be made on child marriages and child led marriages. These phenomena are very different. In a number of cases of elopement, POCSO is invoked," he said.
A Calcutta High Court advocate said government departments, district magistrates, and local panchayats have all become more aware, which has led to a spike in reporting. "I do not think that there has been a gradual increase in child marriage I think there has been a gradual increase in reporting. Most importantly, the government department, the DM local panchayat have become conscious, hence the reporting has increased. They also want to show their efficiency by preventing cases and saying at the end of the day so many child marriages have been prevented," he noted.
COVID-19 pandemic has led to an upsurge in child marriage, according to Save the Children's Director of Programs and Policy, Anindit Roy Chowdhury. "In rural and impoverished regions, our team reports that child marriage has increased dramatically since the outbreak," he said. Villages that haven't witnessed a single child marriage in years suddenly have to step in to stop parents from marrying their daughters. With children being at home all day, many families have no choice but to marry their daughter to limit the number of mouths they have to feed, according to him.