Pre-19th century

Before the nineteenth century, girls in India, similar to girls in other parts of the world, were expected to learn and take on housework at an early age. Home school was a popular choice, and the learning content often centered mostly on domestic tasks rather than vocational skills. The definitive moment that marked the end of girlhood was not landing a job or finishing schooling. Rather, most of the time it was marriage that ended girlhood. 

Although the beginning of girls’ puberty was the ostensible milestone of girls’ eligibility to enter into marriage, child marriage was a common phenomenon before 16th century. Rig Veda, the oldest and most important of Hindu holy texts, was cited in a number of nineteenth-century texts. These texts documented that child marriage occurred and intensified with scriptural exhortations’ endorsement of pre-puberty marriage. 

In the 20th century, increased female legal age for marriage successfully expanded the length of girlhood in India. In 2006, the government of India prohibited child marriage. Girls in India are having more control over their own bodies and lives. The rate of child marriage plummeted since then,  but child marriage still exist – there are more underage brides (under 18 years old) in India than any other countries in the world.

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