“In the southern part of India we have a relatively better gender balance which explains lower rates of child marriage. Nevertheless, recent studies have shown a rising rate in Kerala,” UNICEF's Child Protection Specialist in India Dora Giusti said.

Giusti attributed the phenomenon in the state, considered India's most literate, to migration from the northern part of the country.

“Child marriage is more common among certain groups and among disadvantaged communities. In Kerala it was not the case even a few years back, but of late there has been a rise in it due to migration from the northern part of India,” Giusti explained.

“The District Level Household and Facility Survey's latest survey (2007-08) study shows that child marriage is widespread but more prevalent in rural areas (48 percent vs 29 percent). Further, child marriage tends to be more commonly practiced in low caste and scheduled tribes,” she said.

According to a UNICEF report, in India there were more child marriages in rural areas than urban. While 52.5 percent of currently married women in age group 20-24 years in rural areas and 28.2 percent in urban areas got married before they were 18 years.

Although the gap between urban and rural areas has almost halved from 30.2 percent in 1992-1993 to 18.6per cent in 2007-2008, currently married women in rural areas were twice more likely to be child brides than their urban counterparts, the report said.

Bihar has the highest incidence of child marriage at 68 percent while Himachal Pradesh with around nine percent has the lowest incidence, it stated.

Six states — Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal — have the highest incidence of child marriage ranging from 51.9 percent to 68.2 percent, the report revealed.

In these states, at least one in two currently married women in the age group 20-24 years happened to be a child bride, it said.

Among five out of the six states with the highest incidence, Uttar Pradesh being the sole exception, more than half of the districts have a higher incidence of child marriage than the state average, the report said.

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