Child Marriage

Inspite of reform movement Child Marriage still takes place illegaly, under the veil of tradition. According to 2010 UNICEF statistics, 47% of the girls in India are married by the age of 18. Child marriage hampers the all round development of the girl child; depriving them of any opportunities of development in their life. It causes irreparable damage and violates a number of basic rights they entitled to by birth, spanning over their entire lifetime. It initiates a chain of violations including right to life and health, right to free and informed consent, right to non-discrimination and equality, right to education, work, and economic autonomy.

Child marriage forces the girl into being sexually active while they are still very young, which leads to early and close spaced pregnancies. This not only has an adverse effect on the girls’ maternal health which has its lifelong consequences, but puts her life itself at risk. A child bride is forced into uninformed and non-consensual sex with no autonomy on their reproductive choices. This is aggravated by non-availability of adolescent friendly sexual and reproductive health information and services such as contraceptives, safe abortion and obstetric care.

Child marriage is illegal under the Prevention of Child Marriage Act’ 2006 (PCMA), and overrides personal laws. Hence marriage of a minor or between two minors is legally void and cannot be legitimised based on any personal laws or cultural norms. In the year 2003, HRLN fought a PIL seeking that the errant government officials, village officials and policemen be held responsible for abetting child marriages, and also sought compensation and other relief for the victims of child marriage. It also demanded for registration of all marriages. The PCM Act of 2006 is the result of that PIL. This particular act is far more powerful than the previous The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 as it puts fiercer punishment on the parties involved, includes rehabilitation of the child and the element of Child Marriage Prohibition Officers (CMPOs). Under the Act, each state government shall appoint CMPOs. These CMPOs prevent child marriages, investigate potential cases of child marriage, advise families, create awareness, sensitize the community, furnish periodical statistics, and perform other necessary tasks. This puts greater accountability and sets a mechanism on the state to prevent child marriages.

Child Marriage is engendered in the patriarchal mind set to control the women’s sexuality and the view that girls are an economic burden. Under the veil of child marriage greater crimes of rape, child trafficking and child labour are performed. As the Delhi High Court noted in its’ judgment, “Young married girls are a unique, though often invisible group.  Required to perform heavy amounts of domestic work, under pressure to demonstrate fertility, and responsible for raising children while still children themselves, married girls face constrained decision making and reduced life choices.” The failure of the government to prevent child marriages from happening and taking action against is the failure of government to protect the girls’ human rights and constitutional rights. It is also a failure to recognise the inherent respect and dignity of a girl’s life.

Related Work

Child Marriage

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