India’s national health survey has excluded child brides of the country from the survey of domestic violence. Child brides are a common occurrence in many parts of India. One in six married girls aged 15 to 19 is reported to have faced abuse at their in-laws' houses. And excluding them from the data makes it harder for girls to reach out for help.
Girls married before the legal age of 19 are omitted from the latest survey due to the new child protection laws. Officials said that the section about domestic abuse was dropped because the confidentiality clause of the survey was in contrast with the child protection law of 2012, which demands all cases of child sex abuse must be reported to the police.
KG Santhya, senior associate at NGO Population Council says that many child brides experience violence in the first year of marriage and the new laws contribute to their stories never being highlighted. Until the last survey, women and girls were asked if they had ever been slapped, punched, kicked, or forced into sex by their husbands. "What gets measured gets acted on.There’s no evidence now to talk about their experience of this violence," she added.
India’s national health survey is a compilation of key social indicators - gender-based violence, marriage age, immunisation, and fertility rates. It plays a key role in the designing process of government policies. Questions about domestic abuse became part of the national health survey in 2005-2006 after the Domestic Violence Act was passed.
According to UNICEF, India has the highest number of child marriages in South Asia. These marriages come with a high risk of domestic slavery and spousal violence. Brides under the age of 15 are 50% more likely to have experienced physical and sexual abuse from their husbands. They are also often found in poor health.