'Male-child preference leads to early marriage for girls in Bihar'

Patna, Sep 25: There is a high probability of girls getting married below the legal age of 18 when there is preference for male offspring at birth, according to a study conducted by the Gender Alliance for Bihar using modified methodology of the World Economic Forum for Census 2011.

Blocks in Bihar where the sex ratio is low have a higher probability of child marriage.

"Indexing Gender Parity and Estimation of Child Marriage: A comprehensive study of 534 Blocks in Bihar", released by Bihar Assembly Speaker Vijay Chaudhary last week, contains detailed analysis of 534 blocks of the state using Census 2011 data.

Gender Alliance Bihar has over 270 civil society organisations supported by the UN Population Fund. Since its inception last year, it has done political advocacy in mainstreaming the agenda of adolescent girls in development in the state through its study of the demographic shift in Bihar.

The report has information on two fronts that would bring focus to the government's commitment to end child marriage in the state.

The compendium, on the one hand, ranks 534 blocks in terms of gender parity across three key dimensions of women empowerment (social, literacy and economic participation) -- while predicting child marriage in these blocks, on the other hand.

"Talk about child marriage in Bihar will, from now, not be based on speculation," say noted economist Shaibal Gupta and Demographer Prabhat Ghosh of the Asian Development Research Institute, which collaborated with Gender Alliance for the research.

Nilay Bipul, an economist at Erasmus University in the Netherlands, explained the phenomenon. He said it probably explains why girls are dropping out from school and are working but market opportunities restrict their access due to lack of employable skills, adding they are not able to participate in the main workforce.

The corresponding increase in marginal workforce participation is probably high for the blocks where sex ratio is low because the girls are not able to participate as main workers due to household and childbearing and rearing responsibilities, thereby having high probability of child marriage.

The reverse of this phenomenon is also true. Blocks with high social value have low marginal workforce values and less probability of child marriage, explained Prashanti Tiwari, who leads Gender Alliance.

Lahladpur block in Saran district has more than parity index value under social index which means apparently there is no preference for male offspring and has corresponding low economic index value, meaning the girls continue their education and, therefore, participate less in the marginal workforce. This block has the lowest probability of child marriage in Bihar at 11.89 per cent against the state's average of 39.1 per cent.

The reverse of this is true for Ghoswari block in Patna district which has a very high probability of child marriage at 66.81 per cent.

"We are now doing qualitative research to compare the two blocks and see what has worked in Lahladpur and where things did not go right for Ghoswari as our research is a work in progress and we will continue to bring more insights into our work to better support the Bihar government," Tiwari said.

Women Development Corporation Managing Director N. Vijayalaksmi also lauded the findings and declared it will work with the Gender Alliance in their endeavour to end child marriages.

"The findings have been affirmed by earlier research into the subject but in the current time, the study has helped the government tremendously to concentrate its action on endemic blocks rather than through an umbrella strategy that would take much time and resources," Vijayalakshmi said.

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