History of Child Marriage
Child marriage is an old mythological practice which was contemplated with the sanctions of social and religious backdrops. Child marriage means the early marriage of the children, which prevails due to reasons like poverty, lack of education, gender discrimination, etc. It would not be wrong to term child marriage as a forced marriage because the children being in their tender age are not mature enough to understand the repercussion of the marriage. However, soon, this was regarded as a social evil which needed to be curtailed down. In the light of which in 1929 a legislation named Child Marriage Restraint Act. This act provided for restriction of marriage for girls below 15 years of age and for boys below 18 years of age. To increase the efficiency of the existing law, it underwent an amendment in 1978, which increased the age restriction by three years for each generation (18 for girls and 21 for boys).
Even after having such legislation in existence, the rate of child marriage was at a steep. The statistics were vivid in nature, showing marriage of child girls to older men or marriage where both the parties are children.
Child marriage has seen a significant decrease after the passing of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, i.e., by 20 percent. (54 percent in 1992-93 to 47 percent in 2006 to 27 percent in 2016).
As per the statistics issued by UNICEF, 27 percent of girls were married before the age of 18 and 7 percent of such were married by the age of 15.
Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006
Who is a child?
A child or minor is defined under Section 2(b) of the prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 as a person below the age of 18 in case of girls and 21 years for boys.
Provisions of the Act:
- This act repealed the then-existing Act, Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929.
- The objective of the act can be classified as Prevention, protection, and Prosecution of Offenders.
- It is illegal for girls below the age of 18 years and boys below the age of 21 years to marry.
- Any marriage consummated between children is considered to be voidable, i.e., void at the option of the parties. The child marriage can be rescinded by the contracting parties within the period of two years after the attainment of majority. Such a petition shall be only made by the girl or boy who is a minor.
- The offense of child marriage in India is punishable with rigorous imprisonment up to two years or fine up to 1 Lac Rupees or both. As per Section 11 of the Act, punishment is also provided for persons promoting and permitting the child marriage under Section 12 of the PCMA.
- The offense is regarded as non-bailable and non-cognizable under Section 15 of PCMA
- This act also provides for the provision of remarriage and maintenance of the girls who have been affected by child marriage.
- Child Marriage Prohibition Officers (CMPO) are to be appointed in every state to prohibit Child Marriage.
- This act also provides for various reformative measures like free legal aid, medical aid, rehabilitation, counseling, etc. The CMPO is empowered to take decisions of providing support.
- For any child born out of a child, the marriage shall be given the status of a child born out of a valid marriage, making provisions for their maintenance and custody.
Read Also: Special Marriage Act in India
Violation of the rights of children:
Child marriage has an adverse effect on the growth of the child physically, mentally, and emotionally. The dignity and privacy of the child are at stake. It tampers with the educational qualifications one can have and thus considered to be a hindrance in the exercise of the child rights.
Our nation has a driving rule of protecting the best interest of the child, and thus, all rights intact to a child must be protected, ensuring the safety of the child. In the case adjudicated by Delhi High Court, Lajja v State, the provision of PCMA prevails amongst any other personal laws.
- Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000
The protection of a child bride is guaranteed under this act. The act provides for an adult male of 18 years and above if marries a child, then it is punishable under Section 32 of the Act.
- Sustainable Development Goals:
India has targeted to eliminate child marriage by 2030 in its complete form.
- Convention on the Rights of the Child
This convention was adopted by 1992, which sets forth the minimum age to be 18 years. CEDAW also ensures that there should be wilful consent for marriage without any coercion. CEDAW states that child marriage shall have no legal effect. India was a signatory on 30th July 1980.
- UNICEF-UNFPA Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage
India was one of the key members and stakeholder to this program, which aimed to end child marriage. Working towards eliminating child marriage, India has taken significant steps.
- South-Asian Initiative to End Violence Against Children
Regional action was adopted in 2015-2018 to which India was a key stakeholder. This was an initiative to end all forms of child violence like child marriage.
Where to Report?
To report an incidence of child marriage, any one of the following persons should be reported immediately
Who will be Punished?
According to Sections 9-11 of the act, any person having the charge of the child (including parents and/or guardian or any association or commission which has the charge of the child); A male adult above 18 years of age marrying a child and any person who conducts, directs or abets the solemnization of such child marriage shall be punished under this act.
With creating awareness, there has been a significant decrease in the number of cases being reported of child marriage. But since, the aim is a complete elimination of this practice; we are still a long way to go. Working towards this goal and realizing the role of every individual and authority, can help protect the interests of the child.
 Commonly known as Sharda Act
 UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017
 Section 3(1) of PCMA 2006
 Section 5 and 6 of PCMA 2006
 W.P. (Crl.) No.338/2008
 Supra at 4