Child Marriage – A Social Evil plaguing India

No matter how evolved a human becomes in terms of money, property, technology, and so on. It is frowned upon to have the ability to make other people’s lives a blessing or a misfortune. Either we talk of continuing a hundred-year-old custom to the point of smothering someone’s life, calling someone a burden, or distributing people as if they were someone’s property.

I am talking about Child Marriage or as some people would pre-mature marriage. Child marriage rates in India were estimated to be around 47% in a UNICEF research issued in 2005–06. 

According to a new UNICEF report, this figure fell to 27% in 2015–16. According to the survey, child marriage is prevalent in three Indian states (Rajasthan, Bihar, and West Bengal), with a 40% frequency in these areas.

You would be surprised to know, how in India, there are different stats about child marriage statewide. But before we break it down, we need to know what the constitution of India says about Child Marriage.

  • Child marriage is defined under Indian law as a marriage in which either the lady or the male is under the age of 21. The majority of child marriages involve females, many of whom come from low-income families.
  • The Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 established it under Indian law, setting the minimum age of marriage for girls at 14 and males at 18. 
  • The Muslim Personal Legislation (Shariat) Application Act of 1937, which suggested no minimum restriction and allowed parental or guardian approval in Muslim marriages, supplanted the law for Muslims in British India.
  • Although the minimum age for girls was raised to 15 in 1949, the minimum age for both genders was raised to 18 for females and 21 for males in 1978. 
  • The applicability and permissibility of child marriage among Muslims under the 1937 Act, as amended by India’s Constitution in 1950, remains a contentious issue, as evidenced by several Supreme Court judgments and rulings.
  • The definition of child marriage was last modified by India with the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006, which applies to all Indians excluding the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the renunciants of the union territory of Puducherry. 
  • Child marriage definition and laws based on Sharia and Nikah have been asserted by some as a personal law matter for Muslims in India, however, it has been ruled by several courts that it applies to Muslims as well.
  • The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006 defines “child marriage” as “a marriage, or a marriage about to be solemnised, in which either of the contracting parties is a child; and child for marriage purposes is defined based on the gender of the person – if a male, it is 21 years of age, and if a female, it is 18 years of age.”

You decide whether it is true or myth: Child marriages were introduced in India to protect the girl child from the depredations of Muslim invaders.

Statewise Child Marriage Stats:

  • West Bengal: The state follows West Bengal Prohibition of Child Marriage Rules, 2008. But despite that, According to NFHS (National Family Health Survey) -4, West Bengal is one of the leading states in India for child marriage. In this state, around 54% of women aged 20-24 were married before the age of 18 in 2005–2006. Over ten years (2015–2016), it fell to 41.6%.

According to estimates, West Bengal is a hotspot for girl child marriages.

  • Rajasthan: The state follows the Rajasthan Compulsory Registrations of Marriage Amendment Bill, 2021. But despite that, according to NFHS-5, 28.2% of boys married before reaching the legal marriage age, compared to 25.4% of girls. Early marriage for boys in rural Rajasthan has decreased significantly, from 44.7% in 2015-16 to 33.2% in 2020-21. 
  • Bihar: The state follows the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021. DNA India highlights ICRW‘s research on empowering girls to end child marriage, which indicates that Bihar has the highest rates of child marriage in India. Child marriage is prevalent in India at 47%, while it is 60% in Bihar.

According to studies, Bihar is a hotspot for boy child marriages. 

  • Uttar Pradesh: The state follows the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) (PCMA) Bill, 2021. As per reports, Shravasti has the highest rate of child marriages in UP, with 51.9% of women aged 20 to 24 marrying before the age of 18, followed by Lalitpur (42.5%), Bahraich (37.5%), Balrampur (35%), and Siddharthnagar (33.9%). 
  • Madhya Pradesh: The state restricts the social evil tradition under the Child marriage in India (Amendment) Bill, 2021. Lockdowns in successive years have resulted in an increase in child marriage instances in Madhya Pradesh. According to data released by the Madhya Pradesh State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, 196 underage marriages were prevented in 2019-20. This figure is expected to climb to 710 in 2020-21. It is a 262% increase.
  • Maharashtra: The state obeys the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. According to statistics, during the previous three years, there have been over 15,000 child marriages in 16 Maharashtra districts.

The concept that if two people knew one other since infancy, it fostered understanding and affection was the impetus for the establishment of Child Marriage. As a result, parents made marriage plans for their children at an early age, even if the daughter stayed with her parents until she reached adolescence.

We are in the twenty-first century, and we are still turning a blind eye to child marriages? No girl under the age of 18 should be allowed to marry in India, regardless of state or religion. India urgently requires a Uniform Civil Code.

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