“My condolences to her.
my condolences to her who used to smile wide, sculpting an origami sheet
To her who used to play hide and seek
My condolences to her
Who used to love math, but had something else in her fate
to the one who was married off when she was just eight
My condolences to her.”
We all are familiar with the daily soap “Balika Vadhu”, which translates to Girl Child Bride in English. Child Marriage is an evil social norm that involves at least one person of minor age getting married. In most cases, an underage female child is married off to an older husband. In India, the minimum age for marriage of females is 18 years old and that of males is 21 years old. Child marriage is a crime under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code. However, it is still practised widely in some parts of the nation. From April 2020 to March 2021, a 27 per cent rise was recorded in Child Marriages in India(source: The New India Express). As of January 2020, around 650 million girls in the world were married before attaining the age of 18(source:unfpa).
Reasons for Child marriage in india:
India is a poverty-stricken country, with the total headcount ratio reaching 50.9-55.87 per cent in the financial year 2021-2022(source: The Indian Express). With financial issues, families believe that expenditure on a girl’s education and lifestyle is another burden. This also amounts to the violation of human rights and equal status and opportunity in society. For this reason, they find child marriage as an alternative to save their expenses. They do not take into consideration the difficult path their daughter will have to go through.
Escaping from equal distribution of ancestral property
Families with financial issues or poor mindsets, inspired by ancient times, to this date believe that only the sons have rights on their property. Due to this reason, they believe that wedding their daughter off would help them escape from their duty to distribute their property equally among all siblings, including daughters.
In some areas of our country, people find the early marriage of a girl as a blessing. In such situations, parents tend to feel insecure and try to fix their daughter’s marriage as soon as possible. Even in cases where a young girl has started menstruating, has been raped or molested, is considered to be mature or impure and is married off as soon as possible, just to save the family’s reputation in society.
Effects of child marriage
Due to a very wide age gap between the husband and wife, the maturity level of these individuals is very contrasting. In such a case, domination of husbands over their wives becomes extremely easy given the vulnerability of young age. And this can lead to extreme gaslighting and mental abuse in the long run.
People engaged in child marriages are more prone to physical abuse. Very often when the girl child tries to go against the wishes or demands of the husband or her “sasural”, they try to gain control over them by physically abusing them. This leads to extreme anxiety and feelings of depression in the victim’s mind. Also, child physical abuse can increase the chances of cardiovascular diseases.
Sexual abuse is one of the worst forms of abuse with long term side effects. Marital rape is not a crime in India, however, rape in a child marriage will be considered as a crime as the marriage itself is invalid in the eyes of law. After a child marriage takes place, in most of the cases, the husband considers his wife as his property. They try to engage with them in sexual activities, not because the girl child’s body is still not developed enough.
Negative impact on reproductive health
Engaging in sexual intercourse at such a young age can lead to a long term impact on reproductive organs. Moreover, lack of required sex education can lead to unwanted pregnancy, HIV-AIDS, misuse of birth control pills, emotional trauma and other health issues.
Negative impact on the economy
Child marriages are more likely to result in early pregnancy. The lack of emphasis on education in such families results in the formation of unskilled and non-knowledgeable individuals which also has a negative effect on their job opportunities. Early pregnancy leads to financial overburden on the family, thus trapping them into the vicious cycle of poverty.
Laws governing Child Marriage in India
CHILD MARRIAGE RESTRAINT ACT,1929
This law is popularly known as the Sharda act, after the former Hon’ble Justice Mr Harbilas Sharda. This law was passed in the Imperial legislative council of India and applied to British India. Under this law:
- The minimum age for marriage of females was fixed to 14.
- The minimum age for marriage of males was fixed to 18.
- Post independence, the age limit for marriage of females was raised to 15.
- In 1978, the minimum age for the marriage of females was raised to 18 and that of males was raised to 21.
THE PROHIBITION OF CHILD MARRIAGE ACT, 2006
This act came into formation after the landmark case of Lajja Devi vs State (NCT of Delhi) The major features of this act are:
- An adult involved in the conduction of a child marriage or is a part of the marriage will be considered as an offender.
- Sexual activities with child brides has been criminalised.
- Child marriage is voidable at the option of any of the two contracting parties, including when they are minor in age.
- A decree of nullity is an option for both the contracting parties within two years of attaining majority by any of the parties.
- Offence under this act in a non-bailable offence.
- The act criminalises Child marriage and voidable at the option of the parties involved, but does not declare it void by nature.
It is time for all of us to take action against such a crime. On 8th March 2021(International Women’s Day), UNICEF posted an article on its website issuing a warning that an additional 10 million women are at risk of child marriage (read the full article here). In the past week, the Rajasthan government has amended Section 8 of the Rajasthan Compulsory Registration of Marriage Act, 2009, stating that the parents of individuals who have entered into a marriage before meeting the minimum age requirements are to register the marriage. This decision has its pros and cons. It is our duty as learned citizens of this nation to change this mindset and evolve our thinking. Girls are ruling the world with their passion and hard work. It is time to uplift our girls, our thinking and mould them into the next Kalpana Chawla and P.V. Sindhu of the generation.