India Criticized for Not Co-Sponsoring U.N. Child-Bride Resolution

Country sees more underage marriages than anywhere in the world

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Danish Siddiqui / Reuters

Krishna, 14, breaks down after her husband Kishan Gopal, 16, came home drunk in a village near Baran, located in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, Jan. 21, 2013

Correction: an earlier version of this story and headline said that India failed to “sign” the resolution. In fact, it chose not to co-sponsor it. The story and headline have been edited to reflect this.

India has been criticized by rights groups for not co-sponsoring a U.N.-led resolution that calls for the elimination of early marriage. The first-of-its-kind proposal, initiated by the U.N. Human Rights Council and co-sponsored by 107 countries, calls for the ending of child marriage to become part of the global development agenda after 2015.

Syed Akbaruddin, a spokesman for India’s foreign ministry spokesperson said that although the government was not a co-sponsor it nonetheless “supported the objectives of the resolution.”

A statement issued by the Center for Reproductive Rights said that while several countries with high rates of child marriage adopted the resolution, including Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, Honduras, and Yemen, “not a single South Asian country with significantly high rates of child marriage co-sponsored the proposal — specifically India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan or Pakistan.”

India’s 24 million child brides is the largest such number in the world, representing 40% of the global total of 60 million. South Asia as a whole accounts for more than half of the world’s child marriages.

“Early marriage cuts short [girls’] education, places them at risk of domestic abuse and marital rape, and makes them economically dependent,” says Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “It has a profoundly detrimental impact on their physical and mental well-being.”

It is estimated that 130 million young girls will be married against their will by 2030, if South Asian countries continue to turn a blind eye to the practice.

The legal age for marriage in India is 18, but rights groups say the law is not adequately enforced.

MORE: Desmond Tutu: Tackling Child Marriage in India