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Child Marriage in India: Reasons and Impact

Major Reasons for prevalence of Child Marriage in India

Economies of marriage:

  • Poverty and marriage expenses such as dowry may lead a family to marry off their daughter at a young age to reduce these costs.
  • Patriarchal Indian society considers a girl as an economic burden. Marrying her off at an early age is away to transfer this burden to the maritial family.
  • There is another dimension to the economies of marriage. The marriage of the boy brings home an additional hand to assist the unpaid household and economic activities.

Lack of education:

  • Poor educational opportunities for girls, especially in rural areas increase the vulnerability of a girl child to be married off early.
  • Also, in the current patriarchal setup of the Indian society a girl’s right to education is regarded as a secondary priority to her labour in the household. This aggravates the situation as the girls’ power to resist marriage and opt for alternative aspirations is decreased.
  • Patriarchy and gender inequalities prevailing in the Indian society is one of the major reasons for persisting high incidence of child marriages.
  • Prevailing cultural perspectives too encourage the child marriage to thrive in.
  • Inadequate implementation of laws is a major reason for persisting menace of child marriage in the country.

Impacts of Child Marriage

  • On women health: Issues related to early pregnancy. Mental health is 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 and are more at risk of transmitting HIV/AIDS.
  • 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

Historical Background

  • Social reformer Raja Rammohan Roy pioneered social movements for the upliftment of women in the Indian society.
  • Associations like Bramho Samaj and Arya Samaj took up the cause of child marriages.
  • Indian Penal Code (1860) prohibited the consummation of marriage if the girl was less than 10years of age.
  • Keshab Chandra Sen and Behramji Malabari considered this age to be very low.
  • C Sen of Bramho Samaj introduced a novel marriage ceremony where the consent of bride and bridegroom was secured.
  • Sen also issued circulars to medical authorities with an aim to ascertain the marriageable age
  • Marriageable age was fixed at 14 years for girls and 18 years for boys under the Bramho Act of 1872. This Act later came to be known as Native Marriage Act.
  • Malabari wanted to have legislation on the subjects of widowhood and child marriage.
  • He published pamphlets entiled ‘Infant Marriage and Enforced Widowhood’
  • In 1891, Age of Consent Bill was passed which prohibited cohabitation with wife under the age 12.
  • This was examined by the Joshi Committe in 1925
  • Based on the recommendations of the Joshi Commitee, the Sarda Act was passed in 1929

Child Marriage Restrain Act or Sarda Act of 1929

  • The Act was published in the Gazette of India Part-IV.
  • It came into force on 1st April, 1930
  • The main aim of the Act was to restrain solemnization of child marriages in India.
  • It applied to all classes of people throughout British India.
  • The Act prohibited marriage of boys below 18years and of girls below 12 years of age.
  • Male above 18 below 21 years were punishable with the fine of Rs.1,000 those who contracted child marriage.
  • Clause 5 of the Act stated that the persons engaged or parents/guardians were punishable with fine of Rs.1, 000.

Child Marriage Restrain (Amendment) Act of 1978

  • The Act rose the minimum age at marriage for girls to 18years and that of boys to 21 years.
  • However, the marriage performed in violation of this condition still remained valid.

The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006

  • The Act came into effect on 1st November 2007
  • The Act extends to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir; and it applies also to all citizens of India without and beyond India
  • Under this Act, “child” means a person who, if a male, has not completed twenty-one years of age, and if a female, has not completed eighteen years of age.
  • The Act defined “child marriage” as a marriage where either of the contracting parties is a child
  • Boys and girls forced into child marriages as minors have the option of voiding their marriage up to two years after reaching adulthood, and in certain circumstances, marriages of minors can be null and void before they reach adulthood.
  • It provides maintenance for the female contracting party.
  • Children born of child marriages are consider t be legitimate.
  • Responsibility laid on the District Courts to decide upon the parental custody of the child, keeping in mind children’s best interests.
  • Punishment of male adult marrying a child: A male adult above eighteen years of age, if contracts a child marriage shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment which may extend to two years or with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees or with both.
  • Punishment for solemnizing a child marriage: Whoever performs, conducts, directs or abets any child marriage shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment which may extend to two years and shall be liable to fine which may extend to one lakh rupees unless he proves that he had reasons to believe that the marriage was not a child marriage.
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