Context:

  • The Centre on 9th August, 2017 defended in the Supreme Court a provision in the Indian Penal Code that grants immunity to a person from the rape charge provided the victim is his wife and aged between 15 and 17 years.

Explanation:

  • The Centre on 9th August, 2017 told the Supreme Court that a man forcibly having sex with his minor wife, if she is above 15 years of age, should not come under IPC Section 375 (rape).
  • The center says that this exception in the rape law, the Centre said, is to “protect the institution of marriage,”
  • However, the apex court has given the Centre two weeks to provide data relating to the prosecution of those involved in child marriage, the number of prohibition officers appointed by states as per the Prohibition of Child Marriages Act, 2006 and medical records on the impact of such marriages on children.

The drawbacks of the exception:

  • The exception is part of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013 and is contrary to the anti-child sex abuse law, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act of 2012 (POCSO).
  • The legal age for marriage in India is 18 years for girls and 21 years for boys. Thus, there was no reason for the exception to continue as such immunity fostered child marriages.
  • A girl under 18 is seen as a child in POCSO, but once she is married, she is no more a child under the Exception 2 to Section 375 of the IPC. But this is totally inconsistent. The truth is that a girl under 18 is still a child, married or not.
  • Moreover, most of the girls involved in child marriages were between 12 and 17 years of age, the brides were left without any remedy as they cannot file cases against their husbands because of the immunity.

Prevention of Child Marriage Act 2006:

  • To ensure that child marriage is eradicated from within the society, the Government of India enacted Prevention of Child marriage Act 2006 by replacing the earlier legislation of Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929.
  • According to the act a child is a male who has not completed twenty one years of age and a female who has not completed eighteen years of age.
  • Child marriage is a contract between any two people of which either one or both parties is a child. This is the major reason why a child is not permitted to enter into marriage.

Objective of the act:

The objectives of the Act are as follows:

  • To prohibit solemnization of child marriage and connected and incidental matters.
  • This new Act is armed with enabling provisions to prohibit for child marriage, protect and provide relief to victim and enhance punishment for those who abet, promote or solemnize such marriage.
  • This Act also calls appointment of Child Marriage Prohibition Officer for implementing this Act.

Duties of the Child Marriage Prohibition Officer:

The government shall appoint Child marriage protection officers over the area specified in the official gazette. Their duties are:

  • To prevent child marriage by taking action
  • To collect evidence for effective prosecution
  • To advise the locals not to indulge in promoting or helping or allowing solemnization of child marriage
  • To create awareness of the evil of such child marriage
  • To sensitize the community on the issue

Impact of child marriage:

  • On women health: Issues related to early pregnancy. Mental healthis also a major concern. Violence and abuse at maritial home can lead to post-traumatic stress and depression.
  • On Education:Girls are forced to drop out schools. There lies a cause and effect relationship between lack of education and child marriage.
  • On fertility:Lower age at marriage directly affects fertility rates. Lower the rate of age at marriage higher is the fertility rate.
  • Maternal mortality:Maternal mortality is high among women who have conceived at an early age. Risks associated with pregnancy are higher.
  • Infant Mortality:Mortality rates of children born to very young mothers are high. The children that survive are likely to develop health problems.
  • Violation of Rights of Children: The Rights of Children are denied by early marriage. The Convention on the Rights of the Child is designed to guarantee certain individual rights. Child marriage denies the following rights:
  • The right to education
  • The right to be protected from physical and mental violence, injury or abuse, including sexual abuse, rape and sexual exploitation
  • The right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health
  • The right to rest and leisure, and to participate freely in cultural life
  • The right to not be separated from parents against the child’s will
  • The right to protection against all forms of exploitation affecting any aspect of the child’s welfare and
  • The right to eventual employment

Decline in child marriage:

  • As per the 2011 census, the percentage of child marriage in India in 2011 was 31.6%.
  • It was 52% in 2001 and shows a declining trend.
  • As per the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-4(2015-16), the percentage of Women age 15-19 years who were already mothers or pregnant is 6.3% which was 16% in National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-3 (2005-06).

Other initiatives for women and child development:

  • At present, 1626 Institutional Care (Homes), 306 Open Shelters and 351 Specialized Adoption Agencies are functional under Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICDS) across the country.
  • The Ministry of Women and Child Development has developed Track Child and ICPS portal for updation of the data base of children in need of care and protection by all State Governments/UT Administrations and other stakeholders such as Child Welfare Committees, Juvenile Justice Board and for monitoring at the central level.
  • The Ministry of Women & Child Development has set up 151 centres till date under the new scheme of One Stop Centres (OSCs) for women affected by violence.
  • The purpose of these One Stop Centres is to help those women who have no access to either police or medical facilities or are not able to visit a police station in times of distress.
  • Each centre has a psychologist, a doctor, a nurse, a lawyer, police and facility for 8 beds which can be expanded. The

Conclusion:

  • Child Marriage is a menace that cannot be curbed without support from the society.
  • Mere legislation will not serve the purpose unless there is support and backing from the society. Uniform Civil Code would also help in preventing child marriage to some extent.
  • Victims need to be vocal to the legal authorities when it comes to filing a case instead of being submissive and silent about the matter.
  • It is always the consent that should be taken into consideration by law rather than a mere age.
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