Marriages of minor girls in India
India is among the 10 countries of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa that
house the highest number of girls who marry before the legal age of 18
years. The UNICEF State of the World Children Report 2011 launched in
the Capital recently reveals that India is home to 20 per cent of the
world's adolescents and half of the adolescents living in Asia. The report has lessons for India as it shows how investments in
adolescent education and health worldwide are helping countries break the entrenched cycles of poverty and inequity.
The report titled, "Adolescence: An Age of
Opportunity", counts the world's adolescents (those aged between 11 and 19 years) at 1.2 billion.
While adolescents represent only 12 per cent of the people in the
industrialised world, in India they account for around one quarter of
the total population. These people need urgent attention as they hold
the key to breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty and abuse.
dowry, shabby treatment of girls and societal sanction allows
prevalence of child marriages. 30 per cent of the adolescent girls in the 15-18 age group get
married, with Rajasthan housing the maximum numbers (58 per cent). Globally also, India is placed in the bottom heap in the category. It is
next only to Chad, Mali, Niger, Bangladesh, Guinea, Nepal and Uganda
when it comes to housing adolescent married girls. Even Pakistan is better off on this count as only 36 per cent of its girls in the 20-24
age group had the first union before 18 years; the corresponding percentage for India is 64.
At religious festivals such as "Akha Teej", hundreds of girls as young
as 10, dressed in traditional red saris and adorned in gold, are married
off in dusty villages and small towns across this poor, drought-prone
Bill to ban child marriages
The upper house of parliament approved a bill to ban child marriages
on December 15, 2006. "Sixty-five percent of the girls married in India are below the age
of 18. We need to remove this biggest obscenity of child-child and child-adult marriages," Minister of State for Women and Child
Development declared while moving the Prevention of Child Marriage Bill, 2004 that the Rajya Sabha later adopted.
It will now be sent to the Lok Sabha for adoption before being sent to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam for his
assent, after which it comes into law.
The bill provides for the appointment by state governments of child marriage
prevention officers, who will also rule on such marriages that have already taken place. In the case of marriages being declared void, the bill states that
the husband, or if he is a minor at the time of the marriage his guardian would pay maintenance to the minor
girl till she remarried.
Replying to the debate on the bill, Chaudhary said every child
marriage, whether conducted before or after the commencement of the act, could be voided at the option of the contracting party. She lamented that in spite of a law against child marriages
being on the statute since 1927, the pernicious practice had not stopped due to social and economic factors.
"An act was passed 77 years ago but there was no legal way to make child marriage a crime. We need to move ahead to prevent the practice rather than cure the evil as
envisaged in the previous law," Chowdhury added. The bill had been tabled in
parliament in 2004. It was then considered by a parliamentary standing committee and a group of
ministers before cabinet approval was obtained earlier this year.
A recent report about students of a village school near Davangere protesting against the proposed marriage of one of their school mates, a
12-year-old child of Class VI, is a source of hope and confidence for
those who campaign against this wrong practice. The children prevailed on the parents not to go ahead with the marriage
of their daughter and they should be congratulated for their efforts to stop the marriage. If reports are true, the teachers of the school had
refused to support the students, arguing that the marriage was a personal matter, and the neighbours intimidated the children. This is
shameful and shows the hold of superstitions and bad traditions on the minds of grown-up and even educated people.
A child bride is more likely to drop out of school and have serious
complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Her children are also
more likely to be underweight and lucky to survive beyond the age of five.
In spite of widespread campaigns against child marriages for many years,
they are rampant in Karnataka, especially the northern parts of the state. Two out of five girls are estimated to be married off before they
attain the age of 18. In districts like Raichur and Koppal more than half the number of marriages involve under-aged children
Rajasthan to foil child marriages
The Rajasthan government has asked district authorities to prevent child marriages held on the Hindu religious day of Akshaya
Tritiya (Akha Teej) May 6, 2011 an official said Sunday. The government has ordered punishment to anybody involved in organising
child marriages, including priests, catering firms and photographers.
"An order has been issued to all district authorities by the Department
of Women and Child Development that they should include professionals in
the category of offenders," an official said. Earlier, the focus was only on family members of the children.
The decision is meant to instill fear among people. Authorities have also been asked to conduct public meetings in villages
to raise awareness on the issue.
"The chief justice of Rajasthan High Court Arun Mishra has taken the
initiative to prevent child marriages in the state," president of RSLAA Justice Dilip Singh said during his visit to Ajmer to create awareness
on the social evil. Briefing the law on child marriages, he said that people who arrange
child marriages or priest who conduct the ceremony, so also cooks, tent
house owners, music bands, owners of horses, are all punishable according to the law if they are found involved.
RSLAA has started a helpline in Jaipur, and district and session judges
of the all districts are appointed to keep vigils on the matter.
Seminar on child marriage
One of the biggest lacunae in child marriage legislation is that
marriages of underage persons are “not voidable” and they are “recognised,” Girija Vyas, chairperson, National Commission for Women
(NCW) said here on Monday. She was addressing a seminar on child marriage.
“Moreover, the children [from such marriages] are legitimate. Then there
are personal laws governing marriages,” Ms. Vyas said. Her term with the Commission is set to end next week.
Ms. Vyas pointed out that 73 per cent of the marriages in Madhya Pradesh
were of underage persons making it the State with the highest number of
child marriages. Rajasthan came second, followed by Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and even some districts in Kerala.
Ms. Vyas drew attention to the rising rate of crimes against women. Data
for 2005 and 2009 showed that the number of reported rape cases had gone
up from 18,349 to 22,000, cases of kidnapping from 15,000 to 26,000,
dowry deaths from 6,000 to 9,000, molestation cases from 34,000 to 39,000 and those under section 498 A of the Domestic Violence Act shot
up from 58,000 to 90,000. While there were instances of the Act being misused, “in a situation of
inequality, there is no alternative to 498A,” she said.
Policy changes proposed by the Law
The Law Commission of India has proposed a number of changes regarding child
marriages and otherwise. Responding to the queries raised by the Supreme
Court in a writ petition before it wherein the Court sought the opinion
of the Commission on certain issues relating to child marriages and the
legal framework associated therewith in the country, and also dwelling
upon the issues in the light of the recently enacted 'Prohibition of Child Marriages Act, 2006', the Law Commission has come out with the
205th Report entitled 'Proposal to Amend the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 and other allied Laws'.
Upon an extensive review and deliberations upon the various
considerations involved in child-marriages and its implications upon other criminal laws, the Law Commission has proposed as under;
(a) Child marriage below the age of 16 be made void (i.e. legally unenforceable under any circumstances)
(b) Marriages where either or both spouses are between 16 and 18 be made
voidable (i.e. giving an option of either party to get them annulled);
(c) The provision of maintenance of the girl till her remarriage in
either (a) or (b) to be continued and all children arising out of either of the marriages under (a) or (b) to be deemed legitimate;
(d) The concept of marital rape (as being a non-punishable offence) be deleted from the Indian Penal Code;
(e) The legal age for a girl to give sexual consent to be increased to 16 years;
(f) Registration of all marriages to be made mandatory; and most importantly
(g) *The age of marriages for both boys and girls be made 18 years*;
(here the Commission says there is no reason for keeping a difference in the two ages)
Child marriage is thus child abuse and a violation of the human rights of the child. It has an extremely deleterious effect on the health and
well being of the child. It is a denial of childhood and adolescence; it is a curtailment of personal freedom and opportunity to develop to a
full sense of selfhood as well as a denial of psycho-social and emotional well being and it is a denial of reproductive health and
educational opportunities. The girl child is the most affected and suffers irreparable damage to her physical, mental, psychological and
emotional development. .