7 Reasons Early Marriage Happens in Bihar, India and Why It’s Harmful

Ending Early Marriage, PRACHAR

For the past several years, Pathfinder has worked to prevent early marriage in Bihar and other parts of Eastern India through projects like PRACHAR and initiatives like JAGRITI. Early marriage is a longstanding practice fueled by cultural, societal, and religious beliefs.

The effects of early marriage and childbearing are well documented. When a girl marries early, she is more likely to begun childbearing at an early age and increasing her risk of dying from complications in pregnancy or childbirth. It is also more likely that her child will suffer poor health outcomes.

Early marriage and childbearing have negative repercussions on girls’ education and mobility, which inhibit her access to social support, skills acquisition, and earning power—essentials for overcoming poverty.

Below are some of the most common reasons for early marriage in Bihar, India, and what we’re doing to make a difference:

1. Poverty

Girls are seen as an economic liability that will not contribute to the family’s income, especially considering the lack of opportunities for girls to advance in education and careers. When daughters are married off, they become some else’s liability.

2. Gender inequality

Girls’ and women’s low status in society is also a major contributor to early marriage. They are, unfortunately, not often given the opportunity to make decisions about their own education, marriage, or fertility.

3. Dowry

In India, it is customary for a brides’ family to pay a dowry (money, goods, estate) to the groom at the time of their marriage. For families steeped in poverty, it is often preferred to marry off a girl to a young, often unemployed, boy so they are expected to pay far less of a dowry.

4. In-laws

Families who have many sons are eager to marry those sons off early in hopes of bringing a young girl into their family who will help with the housework. Usually, these families prefer young, poor girls who will easily adjust and obey the rules of her new in-laws’ household. Early marriage can also be driven by families who know that marrying their sons off early will bring income to the family in the form of a dowry.

5. Fear for a girls’ security

In many of India’s lowest castes, families are fearful about the sexual exploitation of the young girls in their family. This drives the urge to marry girls off at an early age for their protection.

6. Poor education system and few career opportunities

In rural India, there are few educational and career opportunities available to young school-aged women. This landscape leads many families to consider the only logical “next step” for their girls to be early marriage.

7. Older sisters

In families with more than one girl, it is customary that the oldest sister marry first. If an older girl’s younger sister finds a suitor before she does, it is likely that her parents will quickly arrange a marriage for her whether she agrees to it or not.

So what’s Pathfinder doing about it?

Through the PRACHAR project, Pathfinder has worked to educate young women and men about sexual and reproductive rights and health, including the benefits of delaying early marriage and childbirth. We equip young people with knowledge and negotiation skills to better talk to their parents and in-laws about the harmful effects of early marriage and childbirth. Pathfinder employs a life-stage tailored approach to working with unmarried and married young people, understanding that both groups have unique needs. We also work closely with community leaders, parents of young people, and their in-laws to create awareness about the harms of early marriage.

Through the JAGRITI campaign, Pathfinder promotes appropriate age of marriage in Bihar. A youth-centric and youth-led campaign, JAGRITI develops young people’s knowledge, skills, and understanding of sexual and reproductive health through volunteer youth leadership initiatives.

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