A few weeks ago, International Labour Organization (ILO) and Walk Free Foundation published a report, in collaboration with International Organization for Migration. This is titled Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, Forced Labour and Forced Marriage.If ILO lends its name to a report, it ought to be taken seriously. Ending modern slavery, forced labour and forced marriage are laudable objectives. The report says globally, 40 million suffer from “modern slavery”, split into 25 million from “forced labour” and 15 million from “forced marriage”.There is a riddle for small children—what is full of holes, but can hold water?As everyone knows, the answer is a sponge. A reading list of critiques of methodology used in this report is as long as an arm. The report has been knocked full of holes. Does it still hold water? Since people have generally criticised the forced labour part, let me focus on forced marriage. Sure, there is a 1962 UN Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age of for Marriage and Registration of Marriages, emphasising consent, minimum age and registration. (India is not a signatory.) As concepts, minimum age and child marriage are readily understood. But this report clarifies forced marriage is not the same as child marriage. “An estimated 37 per cent of victims living in forced marriage were children at the time the marriage took place. …That is, forced marriage in these estimates includes all marriages of both adults and children that were reported by the survey respondent to have been forced and without consent, regardless of the age of the respondent. Accordingly, the estimates do not include every instance of child marriage, as child marriage is not currently measured adequately at the scale or specificity required for a global estimate.” Note more than 60% of forced marriage victims were not children. Note also, the authors believe child marriage, a concept clearly understood, is inadequately measured and is incapable of yielding global estimates. However, evidently, forced marriage can yield satisfactory global estimates, despite it being much more subjective and culture specific. What is consensual, and what is not, is often difficult to determine.
Therefore, take a look at the Tahirih Justice Centre’s work in USA. Most of it is on child marriages. There is a compendium on state laws against forced marriage, with the caveat, “To the Tahirih Justice Center’s knowledge, no forced marriage prosecutions have ever been brought under these laws (against a parent or anyone else).” Countries (like the UK) have legislation against forced marriages, but whether a marriage has been forced or not, is decided by courts, after weighing evidence. That 15 million sounds large, but it is an estimate. You take the absolute number of respondents who reported forced marriage, divide it by sample size to obtain a rate and apply it to the population to obtain an estimate like 15 million. That’s how all estimates work, nothing wrong with that. But respondents were asked about forced marriage of self, as well as of immediate family members, and the methodology section of the report tells us family member responses are not as reliable as those of self. The absolute number of respondents who reported forced marriage was 1,415 (using which rates are worked out), of which, 271 were for self and 69 were for spouse/partner.
In other words, the relatively unreliably segment is the bulk. It gets even better (or worse) than that. Read this more than once to realise what’s going on. “Refusal on any of the key questions on forced marriage, e.g. question on “forced to marry”; or the question on “did you consent to the marriage”; Refusal on identifying family member after having responded positively to at least one of the key questions. Such refusals were considered to be indicative of recent experience, or knowledge, of forced marriage that the respondent did not want to reveal and discuss during the interview. These refusals were recoded as forced marriage within last five years in the data processing of the national surveys.”This is best described as illustration of how responses should not be elicited. “It is important to note that the measurement of forced marriage is at an early stage and both the scope and the methodologies are likely to be further refined. Accordingly, the current estimates should be considered to be conservative.”
One can’t disagree, though I am inclined to think these estimates are confused and fuddled, rather than conservative. It is better to stick to the child marriage issue. For India, based on 2011 Census, there is a rather good report brought out by National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR). It is an issue not only for girls, but also for boys. As everyone knows, there are variations between states. As everyone may not know, there are variations within states, too, and the NCPCR report identifies 70 districts where incidence is high. These are spread across undivided Andhra, Arunachal, Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, MP, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, UP and West Bengal. There is a further filtering, based on increase/decrease between the 2001 and 2011 census. This throws up a few surprises. Districts in Rajasthan feature in the high incidence basket (not a surprise). But except for Banswara, all register a decline between the two censuses. Unexpectedly, some districts in Maharashtra and Gujarat register an increase, such as for boys under-21 in urban Maharashtra. It is such reports one should read, not ILO’s.