Child Marriage is a social issue In Indian
India – the emerging superpower on the global stage is still plagued by a number of societal evils that are hindering its growth and progress. India minus her societal evils can propel herself to becoming world’s next superpower in a shorter time frame. Unfortunately, that is not going to happen anytime soon. These dogmas and superstitions and rituals are so deeply embedded in Indian society that it will take decades of hard work, education and determination to uproot them completely.
Child marriage in India is one such evil of her eternal past that is still haunting her today even in the 21st century. United Nations says that of all the nations in this world, India takes the 13th spot when it comes to child marriage, or to be more lenient, marriage before the age of 18 years.
Here is a quick table which shows the top 20 countries where child marriage is haunting the nations:
|Country Name||Nation Type||Global Ranking||%age of girls married off before they attain the age of 18 years|
|Central African Republic||Developing Nation||3||68|
|Burkina Faso||Developing Nation||8||52|
|South Sudan||Developing Nation||9||52|
|Sierra Leone||Developing Nation||15||44|
|Dominican Republic||Developing Nation||17||41|
That’s a disturbing picture out there but that is the horrid truth of these countries. Though India is not on the very top of the list, she still faces this societal challenge.
How is child marriage defined in India?
In India, a marriage is considered to be child marriage if the boy has not attained the age of 21 years at the time of marriage and if the girl has not attained the age of 18 at the time of marriage. Child marriage is a union between two individuals either formally or informally but without the consent of either both or at least one. It is basically force marriage. This means that a child marriage violates human rights.
The history of child marriage in India is pretty old. The practice can be easily traced back to Delhi Sultanate or even earlier. Several social reasons were cited for such a practice. For instance, girls were married long before they became adults so that they could be protected against abduction and rape by foreign invading forces. And of course, there were grandparents who would use a logic as stupid as ‘we want to see our grandchildren before we die’.
Child marriage in Indian context shows as the following horrid realities…
- Usually minor girls are forced into marrying.
- Sometimes, girls as young as 13-14 are married off to men as old as 60 years.
- This usually happens in poor families and also in families that prefer biting on to age old customs rather than adopting progressive thinking.
- Minor girls who get married without their consent are often subject to domestic violence like beating, verbal and emotional abuse, threats etc. from husband and in laws.
- These minor girls go through sexual abuse which then puts them through post-traumatic stress like severe depression, helplessness and hopelessness.
- Child brides have high possibility of getting infected with HIV because their much elder husbands are way more sexually experienced.
- Pregnancy at a very early age becomes one of the lead causes of death for these child brides because they are not physically ready to undertake such daunting task.
- Also, child brides are not mentally prepared to take on the responsibilities pertaining to relationships. Failure to fulfill those responsibilities leads to physical and mental abuse.
All in all, it is a grim scenario that has plagued and still plagues India. The Indian states that lead in child marriage are Bihar some south Indian states like Kerala. Bihar for instance has a child marriage rate of 68%. The case of Kerala is really weird. This state has highest literacy rate in India and yet, child marriage rate is uncannily high too!
Indian laws that try to fight child marriage
There are some laws in place that attempt to fight child marriage. The first such law to be passed was in 1929 and it became popular as Child Marriage Restraint Act. It was implemented all over India except for Jammu and Kashmir.
According to the Child Marriage Restraint Act, a girl cannot be below the age of 18 and a boy should not be below 18 or between 18 and 21 years old when getting married. This means that the boy should be at least 21 years old and the girl should be at least 18 years old for a marriage to take place. If these rules were not followed, the people who were involved in marriage would be imprisoned for 15 days and they would have to pay a fine or Rs. 1,000.
Definitely this law was not strict enough. It tried to restrict child marriage instead of attempting to abolishing it completely. To take care of the shortcomings of that act, India saw a new act in 2006, which became known as Prohibition of Child Marriage Act. This law attempted to prohibit child marriage. However, this law too has a shortcoming. It is applicable to all Indians except the Muslim community. This should not be the case. This law gives power to the married people to declare their marriage void once they attain adulthood. However, such a declaration should come within two years from the date when adulthood is reached else, the marriage will be legally acceptable.
Also, though the law is in place, most of the child marriages that take place today are usually not registered and hence, go unnoticed. Even if they are noticed, it really becomes difficult to ascertain the real age of the married minors in absence of a proper birth certificate.
Child marriage continues to be a social nuisance in our society and many other societies. This should be abolished completely but proper social awareness and education is required for the same. It is going to take a while and may be even longer in rural areas where education itself remains a social challenge.