CHILD MARRIAGE ACT

Introduction

Child Marriage Act came into force in India in 1929, and got amended in 2006, proclaiming legal age of

marriage for girls as 18 and for boys 21. However, it is an irony that still there are 23 million child brides in our country. The reasons are obvious and hypocritical. There are many anomalies within the law which does

not, in fact, ban Child Marriage out right but says that it is ‘voidable’ at the option of the contracting party
(who is a child at the time of marriage) and void only in certain circumstances. To add further confusion to Child Marriage Act 2006, Child marriages continue to be valid under the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 and Muslim Personal Law. It is indeed paradoxical that in India, in-spite of many laws prohibiting Child marriage
and protection of children against exploitation, unabashedly these laws are ignored and the guilty go unpunished. This is a sheer violation of human rights of children- both boys and girls- with particularly negative consequences for the health, welfare and dignity of the girl child. Unfortunately, Child Marriage is deeply entrenched in society and cannot be removed by the law alone. The worst anomaly of the Law of the land, in this matter was- though sex with or without consent, with a
minor girl ( under 18) was considered punishable as rape, sex with a married minor girl ( above 15 ) was allowed(even without consent) and it was perfectly legal.
Land Mark SC Judgement
The recent Supreme Court judgement making sex with a girl between 15 and 18, even within marriage a criminal offence, came as a huge relief for the girl child. It may have set in motion a series of positive effects for the welfare of girl children in our society. In its order, the Apex Court opined that it is removing the distinction between a married and married child because “ it’s arbitrary, capricious, whimsical and violative of the rights of the girl child and not fair, just and reasonable and, therefore, violative of Article 14,15, and 21 of
the ‘Constitution of India’.
Impact On The Social Fibres Of India.
It’s shocking that even in 21st century India, Child Marriage continues to be rampant. At last count there were 23 million child brides with approximately 30% of marriages in 2016 being child marriages. The immediate consequence of this order will be for the proponents of Child Marriage who take cover under the grab of “tradition and belief”. With the entrenched patriarchy in Indian heart lands, a child bride is often
bought from poor families by old men looking for sexual and domestic servitude. By making it a criminal offence to have sex with child brides the SC, we hope, has snatched away one of the primary motives for child marriage.
A major consequence of this judgement is also its potential towards reducing India’s burden of maternal and infant mortality. There is a strong co-relation between child marriage and maternal, neo- natal and infant mortality along with stunting and malnutrition. Early marriage generally leads to early pregnancy. 12 % of girls aged between 11-19 are already mothers in India. We are aware, a child’s body is not adequately grown for pregnancy or child birth, and risks to both the mother and infant’s survival are much higher. In addition, underweight mothers tend to give birth to underweight babies. It’s common knowledge that nearly 50% of new- born deaths are caused due to complications arising out of low birth weight and premature delivery.
According to the National Family and Health Survey -4 ( NFHS-4) nearly 50% pregnant women in the age group of 14- 59 Are anaemic. It’s noticed that more than half of these women in the age group – 20 to 24 years were married before they attained the age of 18 years and about 27% were anaemic. This has severe
consequences for both maternal and infant mortality.
States and regions with high incidence of child marriage also show greater prevalence of maternal and infant mortality and morbidity. Madhya Pradesh, for instance, has the worst infant mortality of 47 deaths per 1000 live births and also tops the list of states for the number of child marriages. Other states that display a similar
pattern are Odisha, Assam, Utter Pradesh, Jharkhand and Rajasthan among others.
In its judgement SC acknowledges the link between early marriage and the physical and mental well-being of mother and infant. It says-“ the National Plan of Action for Children recognises that the early marriage of girls s one of the factors for neo-natal deaths; early marriage poses various risks for the survival, health and
development of young girls and to children born to them and most unfortunately, it is also used as a means of child trafficking.”
Conclusion
In-spite of Government welfare schemes like ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ there is a dire requirement of a reawakening among our society to abolish this social evil. The Central Government needs to re- examine the lukewarm “Prohibition of Child Marriage Act” and amend it to give it more teeth, so that there is no loop holes left for the guilty, to escape the punishment.

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