Child Marriage in India
A fresh initiative is the need of the hour to fight against the prevalence of “child marriage” in our society. India reported the highest number of child marriages in the world among other countries where this evil tradition is still in practice. Estimates* show around 23.3% of girls between the age group of 20-24 years have been married before they turned 18. Child marriage must be seen as a serious “crime against children” that violates their basic human rights. Minor girls are forced to turn child brides and face mental trauma, physical and biological stress, loss of education. Our daughters also undergo childbearing at young age, which exposes them to serious health issues and some even die during childbirth. World Health Organisation (WHO) says, minor girls are susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and turn anaemic when married young. Many young girls from poor families are trafficked and sold as child brides, whilst some end up being the “common wife” of more than one man. Some very unfortunate minor girls are even sold in red light areas by their husbands after a treacherous marriage. The problem is not only confined to few communities or remote areas but is also an accepted social custom in some religions, where girls after reaching puberty are deemed suitable for marriage even before they reach the legal age of consent. What is worrisome here is, some court judgements in the recent past have endorsed this view terming it to be an integral part of the religions, though the practice is in violation of the Indian law.
State wise fact sheets
When a girl under the age of 18 years or a boy who is under the age of 21 years is married, it is called child marriage.
Remember: If an adult man (over the age of 21 years) marries a girl who is under 18 years, such a marriage is also called a child marriage.
The law that deals with child marriage is called The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA), 2006.
Anyone who has reason to believe that a child marriage has taken place or is going to take place, can complain.
Child marriage can be reported to:
- Child Marriage Prohibition Officer (CMPO)
- Child Welfare Committee
- District Magistrate
- Childline (1098)
Voidable means that a child who is married can approach the court for the termination of the marriage.
A child can approach district court for the cancellation of the marriage. The child can approach the court with the help of police, Child Welfare Committee, Child Marriage Prohibition Officer, Childline, NGOs or any other person whom the child trusts.
Yes, if a girl turns 18, she can still get her marriage cancelled within 2 years of turning 18. This means that she can get her marriage cancelled before she turns 20 years of age.
Yes, if the girl is married before the age of 18 years, she can complain of rape to police. Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 sexual activity with a married or unmarried child who is below 18 years of age is considered as rape.
Yes, we can stop a child marriage from taking place.
A child marriage can be stopped by obtaining an ‘injunction order’ (stop the child marriage order) from the Court of Judicial Magistrate of First Class or Metropolitan Magistrate. Help of Police, Child Welfare Committee, Child Marriage Prohibition Officer, Childline, NGOs may be sought for approaching the Court.
A child can approach the Court directly or through Police, Child Marriage Prohibition Officer (CMPO,) Child Welfare Committee, or through his or her guardian or anyone whom the child trusts.
People who can be punished for conduct of child marriage include:
- Any man above eighteen years of age who marries a girl below eighteen years of age
- Any person who perform or conducts such child marriage such as priest
- Persons/organisations who promote or permit child marriage such as parents/guardians/relatives/neighbours/middleman etc.
- Any person who solemnizes a child marriage even after an injunction order has been passed by the Court
Punishment for conduct of child marriage is imprisonment up to two years and/or fine up to Rs. one lakh or both.
Child marriage is a cognizable and non-bailable offence.
The provisions of the Act can be applied against following persons:
- Priest or any person performing marriage
- Parents/guardians for permitting child marriage
- Relatives, guest, neighbours for aiding or abetting the child marriage
Child Marriage Prohibition Officer (CMPO) is an officer appointed by the State Government to prevent and stop child marriages in any given area.
The CMPO has following duties:
- prevent child marriages
- collect evidence against persons solemnizing the child marriage
- advise either individual cases or counsel the residents of the locality generally not to indulge in promoting, helping, aiding or allowing child marriages
- create awareness about this social evil and its ill effects
- sensitize the community on the issue of child marriages
Every married girl child has the right to maintenance and residence until her re-marriage.
Every child borne of child marriage is a legitimate child and has the right to maintenance, succession etc.
In order to prevent child marriage, we can:
- Spread awareness among the parents and the community about the ill effects of child marriage
- Report any incidence of child marriage
- Make children aware of their rights
- Sensitize the leaders of the community to raise voice against child marriage
- Strengthen village level child protection and welfare committee
WHY A MASS AWARENESS CAMPAIGN?
Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi has successfully rallied public opinion by carrying out mass awareness campaigns in the past on issues that directly affect the holistic development of our children. The awareness campaigns have brought about positive and progressive changes in our legal procedures and policy actions enabling our law enforcement agencies in initiating appropriate steps to curb crimes against children. The campaigns have also ensured access to justice by children from the vulnerable sections of our society.
The Global March movement in 1998 led by Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, crossed 103 countries with 7 million people supporting in solidarity for the cause, built immense awareness and led to high level of participation from the masses. The march culminated during the ILO Convention in 1998 and the voice of children and youth were reflected in the draft of the ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour. ILO Convention 182 became universally ratified in 2020, which is the fastest as well as the only universally ratified Convention in the history of ILO. A large role in this has been played by Global March and its members and partners.
The call to act against “child marriage” is the need of the hour to foster public opinion against the practice that has come to be accepted in many sections of our society as a part of our “social custom” rather than being seen as a “crime against children”. Despite having a long tradition in India where our social reformers like Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Swami Dayanand Saraswati and Swami Shraddhanand have fought against child marriage that culminated in the enactment of Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929, also called as Sharda Act, which was the first codified law in our country against child marriage, the practice still remained in prevalence. Further in 2006, government enacted the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 (PCMA), with the aim to prevent and abolish child marriage but the objective remains unfulfilled.
Our country is now on the threshold of becoming world’s third largest economy by 2030 as predicted by International Monetary Fund (IMF), but to our misfortune, child marriage continues to thrive as many vulnerable sections of our society have genuine “security concerns” for their daughters, so they marry them off early. Further, girls from vulnerable sections do not have many alternative choices including higher education beyond 14 years of age so are forced to marry early. We must therefore evolve as a modern society by building a fair eco-system for all our women to participate in country’s progress and stop them from falling victims to child marriage. It is time we became the courage for our young daughters to enable them to fight and stop child marriage.
In the year 2017, Bharat Yatra, a Pan-India march was called by Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation (KSCF) under the leadership of the Nobel Peace Laureate Shri Kailash Satyarthi on the issue of ending sexual violence against children. The march aimed to bring about institutional, legal and policy changes for prevention of exploitation of children and ensuring time bound justice for the child victims of crime. It was a Social Movement to “Make India Safe Again for Children” that set into motion a range of local, regional and global activities to build vast and sustainable support for the world’s largest youth-led mobilisation for all children in need of care and protection. (The Yatra led to amendment in the IPC through the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2018 to award highest possible punishment to child rapists, also time bound justice for the victims and appropriate amendment in the POCSO ACT 2012.)
Despite the progress made in course of the Bharat Yatra, the scourge of child marriage continues to haunt us and poses a real threat to the fabric of our society. This threat needs to be banished from our society to clear the path to build an environment that is safe and secure for our children.