October 10, 2023
Child Marriage

India has come a long way in its battle against child marriage, but it still has the highest rate of child brides in the world. Despite progress on several fronts, the practice has not yet been eradicated because the rate of reduction is inadequate.

What is a Child Marriage?

According to the law, a marriage between a girl under the age of 18 and/or a man under the age of 21 is considered a child marriage. The second kind of child marriage is when the parents of the two children, a boy and a girl, plan their future union. In this practice, the parties that are involved, the boy and girl, do not get to know each other until their wedding is held when they attain marriageable age. For women, the legal age to get married is 18, whereas for men it is 21.

If we want to use this legal definition to stop the practice, we need a more in-depth understanding of the intricate nature of the problem i.e., its various drivers, manifestations, and effects.

Factors Responsible for Child Marriage in India

  • Patriarchal thoughts- The burning desire to preserve a girl’s virginity in order to preserve the integrity of the family is the primary cause of marriage at an early age. Due to the excessively high value put on virginity, society has created a number of techniques and safeguards to protect females from probable sexual assault, such as marriage at an early age and isolation from society.
  • Traditional Norms and Practices- Governments generally struggle to put current legislation into effect or deal with discrepancies between the national law on the legal age of marriage and deeply rooted traditions and beliefs. This is due to the official acceptance of societal, cultural, and customary practices that shape and drive the framework of marriage as well as family life. In some regions, where child marriage is popular, girls are married off prior to they reach puberty because of the social stigma associated with getting married after puberty.
  • Saving the cost of Marriage- Due to the rising expenses of ceremonies for marriage and accompanying dowry costs, many families are compelled to marry off their daughters at a young age as a way to save money.
  • Fear of Poverty- Poor families find it extremely hard to take care of everyone in the home, thus they would rather “send off” their daughter to another family as soon as possible.
  • Absence of Educational facilities- Girls’ lack of access to adequate educational opportunities, particularly in rural areas, makes them more likely to be married off at an early age. The capacity of girls to refuse marriage and seek alternative goals is further reduced by a lack of education.

Repercussions of Child Marriage

  • According to studies, early pregnancy, which increases the rates of maternal mortality and morbidity, is commonly attributed to poor health indicators, including the prevalence of child marriage.
  • Mortality rates for children born to mothers who are still in their teen years are high. The children who survive are likely to experience health concerns.
  • Furthermore, young females who get married as children face the risk of acquiring STDs like HIV.
  • Domestic abuse and violence can result in depression and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, both of which have a negative impact on mental health.
  • Child marriage, which is directly related to poorer educational achievement among girls, restricts women’s employment opportunities, financial security, and ability to make a contribution to society.
  • Young, uneducated mothers are also more unlikely to have babies who will go to college, which perpetuates the cycle of low literacy and limited employment opportunities.
  • In their marriages and houses, young married women usually lack authority and respect, which raises their risk of facing domestic violence, sexual assault, and social isolation.
  • Lower marriage ages have a direct impact on fertility rates. As the age of marriages drops, the fertility rate rises.
  • Children’s rights, such as the right to an education, the right to be safe from harm both physically and emotionally, the right to leisure time, and the right to be with their parents, are violated by child marriage.

Role of Judiciary: Landmark Judgements

  • In the case of Neetu Singh v State & ors, the Delhi High Court ruled that a minor’s marriage is a criminal offense rather than void or voidable.
  • In the case of Sushila Gothalal v State of Rajasthan, the Rajasthan High Court was ordered to take the necessary measures to end the threat of child marriage by punishing all parties involved. In order to stop these underage marriages, the Chief Minister of Rajasthan had specifically appealed to all residents of the State.

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Prohibition of Child Marriage: Present Status

  • The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act has a significant loophole that allows child marriages to continue even if it fails to make them illegal until the girl reaches the age of 18. Because there is a chance for the girl’s consent, authorities often decide not to take action against those who marry off children.
  • Therefore, the Union Ministry for Women and Child Development under the direction of Jaya Jaitley has set up a committee in 2020 to study issues like the average age of motherhood, the need to lower the Maternal Mortality Ratio, and improving women’s nutritional health.
  • This Committee headed by Jaya Jaitley recommended changing the legal age of consent for girls to marry in the Prohibition of Child Marriage Amendment Bill of 2021 from 18 to 21 years of age and accomplishing so gradually.

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The emotional toll of child marriage is enormous, in addition to the damage that it does to one’s physical well-being. Due to the early marriage and compelled sex, the girl encounters an identity crisis. There is an early burden of responsibilities and a higher chance of abuse and violence within the household.

In India, early marriage has serious and occasionally fatal repercussions, albeit some of the impacts are more intense. A number of new regulations have been established with the passage of the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill of 2021, which will undoubtedly aid in ensuring uniformity and gender equality for everybody. People will learn about how early marriage impacts a child with the right implementation of education facilities.

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