Child Marriage in India: A Persistent Challenge

December 18, 2023
Child Marriage

Introduction: Child Marriage defined

Child marriage as the name suggests is the practice of marrying children in their young age. In India the age of marriage is 18 years for girls and 21 years for boys. Marrying children before the age mentioned amounts to child marriage.

Child marriage problem in India is a deeply entrenched social issue that continues to plague India, despite significant progress in various areas of development. The practice of marrying off children, particularly young girls, not only violates their fundamental rights but also perpetuates a cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and gender inequality. In this article, we will delve into the prevalence of child marriages in India, the consequences of child marriage, the legal framework aimed at eradicating this harmful practice, and the challenges that persist in enforcing these laws.

Child Marriage in India History

Child marriage has a long historical presence in India, dating back centuries. Child marriage history can be summarized into following headings.

  • Ancient and Medieval Periods: Child marriage has been documented in ancient Indian texts and historical records. During the ancient and medieval periods, child marriage was often considered a way to form alliances between families, consolidate wealth and property, and maintain social status.
  • Colonial Era: During the British colonial rule in India, efforts were made to address child marriage through legislation. The British colonial authorities introduced child marriage laws such as the Age of Consent Act in 1891 and the Child Marriage Restraint Act (also known as the Sarda Act) in 1929 to regulate the age of marriage and discourage child marriages. However, these laws faced resistance from traditional and conservative elements within Indian society.
  • Post-Independence Period: After India gained independence in 1947, the government continued to address child marriage through legal reforms. The Child Marriage Restraint Act was amended and renamed as the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) in 2006, which raised the legal age of marriage to 18 for girls and 21 for boys.
  • Contemporary Times: In contemporary India, child marriage remains a complex issue influenced by factors such as poverty, lack of education, gender inequality, and cultural traditions.

Prevalence of Child Marriages in India

India has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, with an estimated 27% of girls getting married before the age of 18. While the practice is prevalent across the country, it is more common in rural and economically disadvantaged communities. Jharkhand is the highest child marriage state in India.

Factors such as poverty, lack of education, and deeply ingrained traditional beliefs, gender inequality, lack of education, inadequate legal enforcement, family and social pressure are the causes of child marriage in India.

5 effects of early marriage Marriage

The consequences of child marriage are far-reaching and severe. Some of it includes:

  • Health Risks: Child brides are at a higher risk of experiencing complications during pregnancy and childbirth, as their bodies are often not fully developed. This can lead to serious health problems for both the mother and the child.
  • Education: Child marriage often results in the end of a girl’s education, as she is expected to take on domestic duties and start a family. This perpetuates a cycle of poverty and limits the girl’s future opportunities.
  • Emotional and Psychological Impact: Child brides may experience emotional and psychological trauma from being forced into marriage at a young age. They may also face abuse and violence from their spouses and in-laws.
  • Economic Disempowerment: Child marriage can perpetuate cycles of poverty, as young girls are often married off to older men who may not be able to provide for them financially. This can lead to economic disempowerment and dependence on others.
  • Legal and Human Rights Violations: Child marriage is a violation of children’s rights and is illegal in India. However, enforcement of these laws can be weak, especially in rural areas.

Legal Framework Prohibiting Child Marriage

In response to the pervasive issue of child marriage, India has enacted several laws aimed at prohibiting and penalizing this harmful practice. The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, is the child marriage act in India that criminalizes child marriage and seeks to protect the rights of children.

The Act defines a child as a male under 21 years of age and a female under 18 years of age, and it prohibits the solemnization of child marriages. It also imposes penalties on those who perform, participate in, or facilitate child marriages, including imprisonment and fines. Additionally, the Act provides for the annulment of a child marriage at the request of the contracting party who was a child at the time of marriage.

Analysis of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act

While the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act represents a significant step towards addressing the issue of child marriage, its effectiveness has been hindered by several challenges.

  • One notable challenge is the enforcement of the law in remote and socially conservative regions where traditional practices often take precedence over legal provisions.
  • Furthermore, the Act’s punitive measures, while necessary, may not be sufficient to deter families and communities from engaging in child marriages. Addressing the root causes of child marriage, such as poverty, lack of education, and gender inequality, requires a multi-faceted approach that combines legal measures with social and economic interventions.

Constitutional Provisions on child rights

The Indian Constitution contains several provisions that uphold the rights of children and emphasize the state’s duty to protect them from exploitation and abuse. Article 15(3) empowers the state to make special provisions for children, while Article 21 guarantees the right to life and personal liberty, encompassing the right to live with dignity and free from harmful practices like child marriage. Article 39(e) and (f) are other important provisions concerning child health and safety.

The Supreme Court of India has also played a crucial role in addressing the issue of child marriage through its judgments. In Independent Though v. Union of India (2017), the Court emphasized the need for strict enforcement of laws prohibiting child marriage and called for concerted efforts to create awareness about its detrimental effects. The Court’s pronouncements have underscored the gravity of child marriage as a violation of fundamental rights and have urged authorities to take proactive measures to eradicate this practice.

Challenges and Way Forward

Despite legislative provisions and judicial pronouncements, challenges persist in eradicating child marriage in India. Deep-rooted social norms, economic disparities, and inadequate implementation mechanisms continue to impede progress in combating this issue. Moreover, early marriage often intersects with other forms of discrimination, particularly against girls, exacerbating its impact on their lives.

To effectively address child marriage, a comprehensive approach is needed-

  • Combining legal reforms with targeted interventions in education, healthcare, and economic empowerment.
  • Community engagement and awareness-raising campaigns are essential to shift social attitudes and norms surrounding early marriage.
  • Ensuring access to quality education and economic opportunities for girls can empower them to make informed choices about their futures.
  • Furthermore, there is a need for improved coordination between law enforcement agencies, local authorities, and civil society organizations to monitor and prevent instances of child marriage. By strengthening support systems for at-risk children and families, it is possible to create an environment where child marriage is no longer seen as a viable option.

In conclusion, while India has made strides in addressing child marriage through legislative measures and judicial pronouncements, the persistence of this harmful practice underscores the need for sustained efforts at all levels. By addressing the root causes of child marriage and fostering an environment that prioritizes children’s rights and well-being, India can work towards eradicating this deeply entrenched social issue and creating a brighter future for its youth.

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