India is home to one out of every three child brides globally. 102 million of the 223 million child brides marry before turning 15 years old. These five states—Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh—are home to more than half of all child brides in India. The state with the most child brides, Uttar Pradesh, has 36 million. Compared to earlier generations, child marriage is a less common practice. Over the past ten years, there has been evidence of accelerated improvement. India has made significant development in comparison to other South Asian nations. This article will discuss child marriages in India and the various laws associated with them.
Child Marriage in India: History
The most frequent question asked is, who stopped Child Marriage in India? The Child Marriage Restraint Bill, introduced in 1927 by Rai Sahib Harbilas Sarda, fixed the minimum age of marriage at 14 for females and 18 for males.
The Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929, passed by the British Parliament, was the first secular law to forbid child marriage. However, it didn't render the marriage void. It could only impose sanctions on parents who encouraged such unions and adult males who married minors. The fine was also extremely small, and the punishment was, therefore, low. The age restriction was raised once the Act was changed.
The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act was adopted in 2006. This law enhanced the punishment for conducting a child marriage ceremony, empowered the courts to get involved in child marriage cases, and made a child marriage voidable by the married parties for up to two years after the participant achieved adulthood.
The Nirbhaya case, a highly publicised rape case in Delhi in 2012, was crucial in persuading the Indian government to raise the legal age of consent for sexual activity to the same level as the legal age of marriage.
Validity of Child Marriage
Child marriage occurs when either the girl is under the age of 18 or the boy is under the age of 21. The previous law, the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929, only included procedures for preventing the solemnisation of weddings, not for preventing or outlawing them. The current law, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006, aims to prohibit child marriages, protect the affected children, and bring justice to those responsible. According to this law, child marriage is a non-bailable, cognisable offence. If a marriage is solemnised after the court issues an injunction, the marriage is to be deemed null and void. The court may impose an injunction to prevent its solemnisation.
Laws on child marriage in India
1. Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006- According to PCMA, a girl must be 18 years old to be married, while a man must be 21. Within two years of turning 18 years old, a female who married while still a minor might get a decree of nullity.
2. Hindu Marriage Act, 1956- Even if they did not consent to the wedding, only the parties to child marriage are penalised under the Hindu Marriage Act. The parents or those who performed the marriage ceremony are not subject to punishment. Only if a girl was married off before reaching 15 and challenged the marriage before turning 18 can the marriage be dissolved. There isn't a specific clause that forbids juvenile marriage in general.
3. Muslim Personal Law- Islamic law is not codified in India. Therefore, its provisions are predicated on how scholars have interpreted the Quran. Muslim law does not prohibit juvenile marriage. A guardian may arrange for a child's marriage. The couple does have the "option of puberty," or khayar-ul-bulugh, which allows them to annul their marriage once their children reach puberty. They may only do this if the marriage still needs to be completed before they reach 18. According to Muslim law, a person must be 15 years old to get married. However, marriage before seven years of age is void, even if a legal guardian arranges it.
4. Indian Christian Marriage Act- If a marriage is to be performed between minors, ICMA mandates that a preliminary notice be given 14 days before the wedding. The parties may marry without their guardians' permission after the time limit has passed.
5. Other personal laws- Child marriage is prohibited by the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act (PMDA). The Act, however, does not mention age when the conditions for an invalid marriage are specified. Jewish law is not codified in India. According to it, the age of puberty, set at 12 years old, is the marriageable age.
1. Lajja v. State (2008) and Seema Begum v. State (2013)- the High Courts held that secular laws would prevail over personal laws.
2. P. Venkataraman v. State(1977)- The only repercussion of child marriage is that the people involved may receive a divorce decree if they choose and are subject to the penalties outlined in section 18 of the HMA of 1955.
UNICEF and Child Marriage
The strategy used by UNICEF to eliminate child marriage in India takes into account the socio-cultural and structural variables that contribute to the issue's complexity. Working with the government, partners, and relevant national and local stakeholders, UNICEF India implemented its "scale-up strategy" to prevent child marriage and boost adolescent empowerment. The biggest change has been the steady transition from interventions focused on a small number of small sectors to large-scale district models on adolescent empowerment and preventing child marriage that relies on already-existing, expensive government programmes.
Through their joint Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage, UNICEF and UNFPA have joined forces to address child marriage holistically for the first time, bringing together existing strategies in areas like health, education, child protection, nutrition, and water and sanitation. The strategy is to address child marriage across a child's whole lifespan, particularly by addressing enduringly harmful social norms that are major contributors to the high occurrence of child marriage in India. The initiative employs strategies that are effective at scale and collaborate with governments, civil society organisations, and young people.
The legal age of marriage was increased from 16 to 18 years of age for females in 1978. As a result, the latest report of the National Family Health Survey stated that even after 40 years, India still has an alarming rate of child marriages at 23%. Even after the government’s efforts, India still lacks various opportunities.