DEEP N. SARKAR
The legal age of marriage is 18 years for girls and 21 years for boys. It is a punishable offence to circumscribe the minimum age of marriage but that does not stop child marriages from being rampant across the country even in the present day. Needless to say, the practice of child marriage is pervasive in India despite the valiant effort taken by the judiciary and legislators in the country to eradicate it. Such practices manifest the gender inequality that exists within the society reflecting the social norms that perpetuates the discrimination between the two genders. This paper delves into the child marriages that are prevalent in India and steps taken by the government by enacting national legislations against this age-old practice and signing other international covenants in order to eradicate it.
In many communities, girls are seen as a burden to the family and the family wants to transfer the burden as soon as possible to the shift the burden to the husband. The driving factors towards child marriage are poverty and heavy marriage expenses like dowry and other incidental expenses which take place in the marriages. Patriarchy, class and caste influence the roles of girls in the society and restrict it to the roles of a daughter, mother and wife. The saddest part is that in such communities where child marriages are prevalent girls are seen as a liability both to the society and family. India accounts for the highest number of child marriages in the world with the statistics to be estimated at 27% of the girls being subjected to such practice. However, the rates of child marriage vary from states to states with Rajasthan and Bihar accounting for the highest number of child marriage with the statistics hitting 69% and 65% respectively. The most positive news is that in the recent decade there has been a steep decline on the number of the child marriages taking place in the country. The government has been successful through their adoption of policies, regulations and enactment of laws in reducing the number of child marriages occurring in the country. Though, the marriages of children of ages less than 15 years have decreased, there is an increase in the marriages of children between 15 and 18 years of age.
It is seen that the government has succeeded in reducing the number of child marriages in the country. In this section, we will focus on the efforts of the government to strive to end the age-old practice of child marriage. The underlying reasons behind child marriage are lack of education and awareness among the people in the society. Often, it has been seen that the family of the girl have to pay an exorbitant sum in order to get the child married. It is said that getting the girl married at an early age prevent the family from paying a huge sum to the husband at the time of marriage as dowry. It is for this reason that the government have completely banned and criminalised the giving and taking of dowries through the Dowry Prohibition Act. Also, the legislator had fixed the minimum age for getting married which had explicitly criminalised child marriages through the Prohibition of Child Marriages Act, 2006. The PCMA establishes punishments for those who do not prevent child marriages and creates Child Marriage Prohibition Officers. It includes a right to annul marriage if underage, but this relies on families to report the act. The Ministry of Women and Child Development had drafted a national action plan to eradicate child marriages. In addition, cash incentives (such as the Dhan Laxmi scheme and the Apni beti apna dhun programme), adolescents’ empowerment programmes (Kishori Shakti Yojana) and awareness-raising to induce behaviour change. India is a member of the South Asian Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC), which adopted a regional action plan to end child marriage. The regional action plan is to be implemented in 2015 – 2018. It is one of 12 countries selected to be part of UNFPA and UNICEF’s Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage. Besides, the NGOs have also actively dedicated its time towards ending child marriages in the country. One of the famous Indian NGO named CRY (Children’s Right and You) exclusively work towards solving the said issue and other child related issues. CRY has also highlighted that underage marriages have serious consequences on the health of the child brides as well as their brides. Not only the Government but the Judiciary in the recent times have also ruled the fact that any sex with a minor irrespective of her/his marital status will be construed as rape. Thus, such changes in the overall working of the administration and their determination to eradicate it supported by the NGOs is a positive sign towards the condemnation of child marriages in India.
However, it is to be noted that the laws that have enacted for the said purpose should be properly implemented and such acts should be vehemently opposed not only by the government but by the all citizens too. It should be a collective effort and such issues and the gender equality that has been created in the society can only be removed with proper education and more awareness programmes driven by the government and the citizens.
 Valan, Michael L and Srinivasan, M, ‘Child Marriage in India: A Critical Appraisal (2017)’ The IUP Law Review, Vol. VII, No. 1, January 2017, pp. 25-36.
 Girls Not Brides, Child marriage around the world, India, viewed 29th December, 2018, < https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/child-marriage/india/ >.
 Supra Note 2.
 Bhadra, S, 2017 ‘Sex with minor wife is rape, says Supreme Court’, ‘Hindustan Times’