According to a United Nations report, India has the second highest number of child marriages. For a nation which is touted to be the next emerging superpower nation, it is a disturbing reality that evils like child marriages still persist. Marriage is considered to be a sacred union between two mature and consenting individuals who are ready to accept each other and share responsibilities for a lifetime. With respect to this context, child marriages happen to be an unsound institution. The fact that it is still prevalent in India explains that it is a Herculean task to devise measures to eradicate this social evil.
What is Child Marriage, its Concepts and Causes of Child Marriage
Child marriage as a concept can be defined as the formal or an informal union between two individuals before attaining the age of eighteen years. This institution should be seen as an abuse of human rights since this is one form of a forced marriage. As per the law in India, a child marriage is one in which the girl is below the age of eighteen years and the boy is below the age of twenty one years.
Child marriages have a history in India. They have existed from the times of the Delhi Sultanate when the monarchy system was prevalent. Indians also used child marriage as a weapon to protect girls from rapes and abduction by foreign rulers. Another social reason to initiate child marriages was that the elders wanted to see the faces of the grand children.
Impact of Child Marriage
Once married, the girl child is forced to leave her home and inhabit another place altogether wherein she is forced to take up roles that she isn’t mentally prepared for. Huge responsibilities like that of mother and a daughter-in-law are too much for a minor girl. It eventually leads to isolation and depression. For the males, taking up a responsibility as critical as that of wife as in to take of her finances and share your own finances also becomes taxing.
Childhood is lost and the freedom to play and learn is also snatched in the process. Early marriages also carry with them excessive risk factors. There is a greater risk of contracting sexual diseases like HIV. Also, girls who marry early are less likely to be updated about pregnancy and related subjects. Infants born to such mothers are more likely to suffer from malnutrition, low birth weights.
In India, child marriages are still prevalent in the state of Kerala, the state with the highest literacy rates. According to a UNICEF report, in India there were more child marriages in rural areas than urban. Bihar has the highest incidence of child marriage at 68 per cent while Himachal Pradesh with around nine per cent has the lowest incidence as per the report.
Laws to prevent Child Marriages in India
The Indian Constitution provides for prohibitions against child marriage through various laws and enactments. The first law that was designed was the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 which extended to the whole of India except Jammu and Kashmir. This act defines the ages of an adult male and female. If there is a marriage taking place between a boy who is aged between eighteen to twenty one years and a girl below the age of eighteen years, it implies an imprisonment up to fifteen days along with a fine of one thousand rupees. The act was again amended in the year 1940 to rise the ages of male and female children.
Another law that exists is the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. This act addressed the flaws contained in the child Marriage Restraint Act. Thus, this act was meant to strictly prohibit the marriage rather than merely restricting it. Under this law, the children have the choice to declare their marriage as void up to two years of reaching adulthood. But, this law does not extend to the Muslims which is a major shortcoming of the law as this law is binding to all citizens of India. Also, sex with minors is a criminal offence under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code. The issue of confusion over marital rape is also a factor which proves as a hindrance to curb this menace as marital rape is not illegal in India.
Again, the laws are not without criticisms. A major obstacle in curbing the evil is that most of these marriages are carried out informally and thus remain unregistered. Most of the times, it become an uphill task to decipher the correct age of the children as they do not have birth certificates as proofs or even if they have, that happens to be a fraudulent one since it establishes the age inappropriately as an adult. There needs to be mechanisms much stronger than these laws in order to put a stop on child marriages. Immediate reporting to the police needs to done as and when one hears of child marriage taking place.
How to Increase Social Awareness regarding Child Marriage
Children need to be made aware of their human rights and must be taught to refuse and speak up once such an incident is taking place or is about to take place. The media also needs to adopt a more proactive role in generating awareness towards this heinous ritual. A popular mainstream show like “Balika Vadhu” was definitely a step in the right direction but then again somewhere in the midst of gaining TRPs, the main issue of combating child marriages took a backseat. Proper media sensitization is required for a major change to take place.
While on one hand, it is stated that child marriage will still take nearly fifty years to be eradicated, genuine efforts, strict enforcements of the legal provisions and change the scenarios to a great extent. Child marriage has been declining at a rate of one per cent per year in the last two decades but this pace is slow.
UNICEF has partnered with NGOs and government organizations to accelerate the process of curbing the rampant practice of child marriages. Organizations like CARPED and Child line have proposed setting up for social homes for the victims of child marriage victims and provide them with funds till the time they are not mature enough along with their education. It needs to be understood that poverty and lack of education are the major factors that undermine the efforts to end the menace.