Child Marriage in India
Child marriage prevalence is generally defined as the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before age 18. India is estimated to have over 24 million child brides. 40% of the world’s 60 million child marriages take place in India according to the National Family Health Survey. India has the 14th highest rate of child marriage in the world, according to the International Center for Research on Women.
Marriage systems and practices vary by region, caste and tribe. Rates of child marriage are higher in the North-West and lower in the South-East of the country. The states with the highest rates of child marriage (50% and above) are Bihar, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. But even in low prevalence states there may be pockets of with high rates of child marriage. According to a recent district-level household and facility survey (DLHS), conducted for the Health Ministry, the worst state for child marriage is Bihar, where nearly 70% of women in their early twenties reported having been married by the age of 18; the best is Himachal Pradesh at 9%.
Reasons for child marriage in India
Low level of education of girls
Lower status given to the girls and considering them as financial burden
Social customs and traditions
To eradicate the evil of child marriage, the Child Marriage Restraint Act was passed in 1929. The object is to eliminate the special evil which had the potentialities of dangers to the life and health of a female child, who could not withstand the stress and strains of married life and to avoid early deaths of such minor mothers.
It extends to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir and it applies also to all citizens of India within and beyond India.
It came into force from the Ist day of April, 1930.
1. "Child" means a person who, if a male,. is under twenty one years of age, and if a female, is under eighteen years of age
2. "child marriage" means a marriage to which either the contracting parties is a child ;
3. "contracting party" to a marriage means either of the parties whose marriage is or is about to be thereby solemnised ;
4. "minor" means a person of either sex who is under eighteen years of age
The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2005 came into force on 1 March 2005 in India. The act forbids child marriages in India. It also protects and provides assistance to the victims of child marriages.
In October 2021, the Supreme Court of India gave a landmark judgement criminalising sex with a child bride, hence removing an exception in India’s criminal jurisprudence which had until then viewed the consummation of marriage with minor wife as legal
Offences and punishment under this Act
Punishment for male adult: If an adult male who is above 18 years of age contracts child marriage, he shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment for 2 years or with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees or both.
Punishment for solemnizing marriage: If a person performs, conducts, directs or abets any child marriage, he shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment for 2 years or with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees or both.
Punishment for promoting / permitting solemnization of marriage: Any person having charge of the child whether parent or guardian or any other person including member of organization or association of persons who does any act to promote the passing or permit child marriage or negligently fails to prevent it from being solemnized, including attending or participating such marriage, shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment for 2 years or with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees or both.