Can police enforcement reduce child marriage? Evidence from India

Project Active from to State Effectiveness and State

Child marriage severely affects female well-being across the developing world, yet its causes remain poorly understood. Research that does examine the determinants of child marriage tends to focus on cultural- and economic factors that are difficult, if not impossible, to directly affect public policy.

Inspired by interviews with local NGO workers specialised in the prevention of child marriage, the researchers aim to examine the effect of a lack of police capacity on child marriage in India, which houses most child brides in the world.

In an existing working paper, the researchers' findings can explain more than 55% of the variation in child marriage rates across Indian states and districts with differences in the number of police officers/stations per 100,000 inhabitants. The researchers also find that this correlation is highly robust to a wide range of control variables (e.g. GDP per capita, public good provision, demographics). Therefore, the researchers aim to investigate whether the correlation found reflects causality, and hence whether child marriage can effectively be reduced by increasing the capacity of the police to enforce pre-existing child marriage laws.

To establish whether a lack of police capacity indeed causes child marriage in India, the researchers aim to implement a randomised controlled trial working together with the Indian police in Bihar. The survey will establish the child marriage rate in the past nine months across treated and control villages, and will help the researchers gather data on the mechanisms through which police capacity may, or may not, affect child marriage.

The findings of this study would provide the Indian government with a concrete policy tool to back its publicly expressed goal of reducing child marriage, as well as other gender-regressive practices. It would also open up a broader academic debate about the range of human development outcomes that are affected by a lack of state capacity. Hence it could potentially increase the scope of development outcomes that governments actively try to affect through public policy.