The four states accounted for 578 cases registered under the Act out of a total of 899 for India as a whole.
The state with the highest number of cases was Tamil Nadu, with 179 prosecutions in the last three years (2014-2016), followed by Karnataka at 130.
In fact, five out of the top six states that have cases registered under the Child Marriage Act are from the South, with West Bengal — at No.3 — being the only exception.
Kerala, a state known for its high literacy levels, is at No. 4 with 54 cases in the last three years, followed by Andhra and Telangana at 50 and 47 each (see graph).
Surprisingly, cow-belt states that are usually characterized as backward in social indicators, reported considerably fewer cases under the Act.
Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, recorded just 15 cases in the three years, while Bihar, which used to be often referred to as a symbol of everything wrong with India, reported zero such cases for 2015 and 2016. In 2014, the state registered 10 cases.
Among those reporting zero such cases in the last three years are the hill states, including Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir and the North Eastern states such as Mizoram and Nagaland.
Under the Act, any adult who marries a girl below 18 years of age or a boy below 21 years of age gets two years of rigorous imprisonment.
Those who abet, perform, conducts or direct any such marriage also gets to spend two years in prison.
Child marriage in India is the result of various social, economic and religious factors.
Some religious communities marry of their members as early as possible to ensure that they bear the highest number of children.
Similarly, in areas where law and order was poor, the custom of marrying one’s girl children as early as possible took shape to prevent them from getting kidnapped or raped. These customs continue even though law and order situation has improved in recent centuries.
In some areas, such as Hyderabad and Mysore, underage girls are married off to foreigners who prefer minor brides.