- To end child marriages in India, the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) is set to move the Cabinet to make child marriages void.
According to the Indian law what is Child Marriage?
- Under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 (PCMA), child marriage is defined as any formal or informal union where the girl is under the age of 18 and the boy is under the age of 21.
- At present, child marriages in India are merely voidable at the behest of the contracting parties.
- The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA), 2006, does not invalidate child marriage itself.
- It only gives the child bride and the groom the option of annulling it if a case is filed in a district court by either of the two contracting parties within two years of becoming adult, or through a guardian in case they are still minors.
- A Supreme Court judgment of October 2017 gave a ruling that sex with a minor wife amounts to rape, as under no circumstance can a child below 18 years give consent, express or implied, for sexual intercourse.
- Since a child bride lacks the agency to file a criminal complaint of rape against her husband, the only way to ensure that the SC ruling has bearing on ground was through amending the PCMA so as to invalidate child marriage entirely.
Child Marriage Data
- According to the National Family Health Survey-4 (2015-16), 26 per cent of women in India between 20 and 24 years were married off as a minor.
- The National Crime Records Bureau data show that in 2016, only 326 cases were registered under the PCMA in the entire country.
- A report by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, using 2011 Census data, showed that 12 million child marriages have been recorded in the country, 7 million boys under 21 years and 5 million girls under 18.
What UNICEF says about Child Marriage in India?
- A 2014 UNICEF report puts India at sixth spot, among the top-10 countries, regarding high rates of child marriage among women.
- The report showed that for women in the poorest quintile (20 per cent), the median age at first marriage was 15.4 years. It was found to be 19.7 years for those in the richest quintile.
- According to UNICEF, while regional disparities exist, child marriage has significantly decreased from 47 per cent (2006) to 27 per cent (2016)
- Although child marriage is declining, the rate of decline is slow.
- Both girls and boys are affected by child marriage, but girls are affected in much larger numbers and with greater intensity.
- Child marriage can be seen across the country but it is far higher in rural than in urban areas.
- Girls from poorer families, scheduled castes and tribes, and with lower education levels are more likely to marry at a younger age.
- Broad, multi-faceted strategies are needed to target different aspects of the problem, including deep-rooted social norms and behaviours, the perceived low value of girls, limited access to education, exposure to violence, restricted freedom of movement and economic vulnerability.
- The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, (for Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains) and the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, 1939, do not still hold child marriages to be void.
- Both laws merely allow a girl to seek dissolution of her marriage only if she was married off before the age of 15 years, and she has to apply for dissolution before she is 18.
- Muslim personal law allows girls who have attained puberty, considered to be 15 years, to get married.
- Both the Indian Christian Marriage Act and the Hindu Marriage Act are lenient enough to allow child marriage to persist.
Negative Impacts of Child Marriage
- Child marriage is a violation of child rights, and has a negative impact on physical growth, health, mental and emotional development, and education opportunities.
- It also affects society as a whole since child marriage reinforces a cycle of poverty and perpetuates gender discrimination, illiteracy and malnutrition as well as high infant and maternal mortality rates.
- Child marriage impacts on almost all facets of reaching the Millennium Development Goals.
The proposed amendment to PCMA will go a long way in ending child marriage in India, and corresponding issues such as early pregnancies, sexual violence, and the denial of right to education and bodily autonomy. However, it still leaves unresolved the issue of marriages contracted under personal laws, unless such laws are also amended.