The 2011 Census has come up with the shocking disclosure that girls below the age of 15 in Odisha have given birth to babies when they should have been going to school. The exact figure, the data shows, of girls attaining motherhood even before 15 is 11,000. The figures point a finger to the failure of social welfare programmes and campaigns to contain early marriages and pregnancies. Of the 59.09 lakh girls below the age of 15, 41,729 girls (0.7%) were already married. Around one-fourth of the married girls (10,685) in the same age group had delivered before celebrating their 15th birthday. While 3,896 (9.34% of those married) had become mothers of at least one child, 6,789 girls (16.27%) had delivered two children. Women and child development minister Usha Devi said, “We need to focus more on creating awareness among parents because that is the only way to prevent underage marriages and pregnancies.”

Women’s rights campaigners attribute the early pregnancies to three factors. “Tribals have a tendency to marry off their boys and girls early. Second, economically weak sections don’t wait for 18 years for their girl’s marriage for purposes of social security,” said Namrata Chadha, a women’s rights campaigner. RD Women’s College principal Chitrangada Samanta Singhar said the findings are shocking. “The Right to Education Act envisages education for all children below 14. But it seems many girls in this age group are burdened with children,” she said. “Early pregnancy is dangerous for both the mother and child. This could be a reason behind the high infant and maternal mortality rates in the state,” said gynaecologist R K Purohit. Odisha’s maternal mortality ratio (MMR) per 1,000 women is 235 compared to the all-India figure of 178. The infant mortality rate is 57 compared to 44 at the national level (SRS-2012). In neighbouring Chhattisgarh, around 6,400 girls become mothers before 15, while in Jharkhand their number stands at over 12,000. At the national level, 18.12 lakh of the 17.80 crore girls below 15 years are married. Around 4.5 lakh in the age group (around 25% of those married) had delivered; while 1.36 lakh had delivered one child, 3.20 lakh had delivered two.

In the age group of 15-19 years, there are 2.90 lakh married women in Odisha. Of them, over 65,000 (22.52%) had given birth to one child, over 12,000 (4.23%) to two children, 4,400 (1.55%) to three children and 5,500 (1.92%) to four children. Out of the total 2 crore women in Odisha reported during the census count, 1.19 crore are married (57.76%) and gave birth to on an average 2.6 children. Of the total 1.19 crore married women, 14.27% have not given birth to any child. While 17.04% delivered one child, 22.93% gave birth to two, 17.74% to three, 12.23% to four, 7.13% to five, 4.10% to six and 4.56% to seven or more.

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