Take urgent action against child marriages: UN agencies

New Delhi: Insisting that marrying minor girls was not a solution to protect them against rape, UN agencies including UNICEF today asked India to take "urgent" and "incremental action" against child marriages, saying the country accounts for 40 per cent of such wedlocks.

The UN Agencies, UNICEF, UNFPA, UN Women and UN Information Centre, sought "political commitment" from the government to end the "harmful practice".

"Child marriage is not a solution to protecting girls from sexual crimes including rape," heads of the UN agencies in India said in a letter to Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath.

The nudging by the UN agencies came days after suggestion by Khap panchayats in Haryana to bring down the marriageable age limit to 16 years to check growing incidents of rape in the state, a view point which drew sharp reactions within the country also.

A Khap Panchayat or caste council in Haryana had said "boys and girls should be married by the time they turn 16 year old, so that they do not stray… this will decrease the incidents of rape."

"More than 40 per cent of the world's child marriages happen in India. In eight states of the country, more than half of young girls are married before the age of 18," the letter said.

The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on 19 December 2011 to declare 11 October as the International Day of the Girl Child, calling all member countries to recognise the rights of girls.

"In fact, child marriage denies a girl of her childhood, disrupts her education, limits her opportunities, increases her risk to be a victim of violence, jeopardises her health and therefore constitutes an obstacle to the achievement of nearly every Millennium Development Goal and the development of healthy communities," the agencies said.