Child Marriages: Killing Innocence
epa00880637 Sex workers and their children walk in a protest against child marriage in Calcutta, India, on Friday 08 December 2006. The rally was organised by Durber Mahila Samannay Committe of Calcutta. Legally, a Hindu bridegroom should be aged 21 and a bride 18. In Southern Asia, 48 per cent (nearly 10 million) of young women are married before the age of 18. EPA/PIYAL ADHIKARY

Child Marriages: Killing Innocence

Child Marriages: Killing Innocence

By Prashant Singh

National Law University Nagpur

Edited by Aayush Agarwal


For decades, child marriages have been a menace to our country and continue to persist and thrive in Indian society. On multiple occasions, customs and legislations have shared strained relations and child marriage is one such example where customs and laws are in contradicting positions. The practice is known to have religious backing and justification in Hinduism and Islam.[1] Various laws and conventions have been formed to prevent child marriages such as CRC (Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989), The Child Marriage (Restraint) Act 1929, Prevention of Child Marriages Act 2004 and Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006. Yet, some states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh are practicing it heavily[2]. Although child marriages affect both the sexes and violate their rights, girls bear the brunt of the grave consequences. Legal age for marriage has been fixed at 18 years for girls and 21 years for boys. However, these limits are infringed in rural areas without any hesitation. The main problem lies in their mindset, for those who violate the law never feel like they’re violating any laws. Instead, they consider it right and according to the conscious of the society.

Focusing on the reasons for early marriages, it can be inferred that among the various causes which lead to child marriages, economic reasons are the primary one. Most of the developing countries are facing the consequences of poverty and child marriage is one such consequence that emanates from poverty.[3] There exists a mentality that girls are a liability on their families, rather than an asset. Moreover, as they are supposed to leave their families after the marriage, people tend to spend less on girls. Early marriage is seen as a possible and efficient way for poor families to reduce their expenditure. Girls have always been denied proper education on various grounds, one such reason being that a more educated bride is married to a groom having an education as qualified as hers, and a highly educated groom is supposed to be entitled to more dowries.[4] It is an auction in which the groom has his base price set according to his educational qualifications, making it a lot more difficult for the poor families to compete in the race to find a better groom. Thus, girls are never sent to school and are married off at an early age.

The patriarchal mindset of society has always wanted to control the sexuality of women, and child marriage is one such tool to gain authority over it.[5] Virginity is the most important quality which a groom’s family seeks in their daughter-in-law. In order to avoid the changes of premarital sex and loss of virginity; girls are married even before they develop an understanding about sexual intercourse and virginity. Furthermore, women have been considered weak and subjugated to men since time immemorial, thus they are dependent on men for their security. A married woman is considered to be a lot safer than an unmarried one.[6] This perspective believes that a man is the ultimate savior who can save a girl from the evil intention of the society. Therefore, laying the responsibility of a girl in the hands of a man as early as possible is the most learned option for families to avail.  Social pressure is another reason which makes people take steps without being rationally sound and stable, hence it is tough to distract people from the traditions of the society.  [7]

The ill effects of child marriages have been numerous, with degradation of health being the most draconian one. Early marriages lead girls to conceive before they get to be prepared mentally or physically. Boys also have the same pressure as bearing the responsibility of being a father is not so easy. Teenage couples give birth to unhealthy infants which directly affects the growth of the nation. If a mother is under 18, her baby’s chance of dying in the first year of life is 60% greater than that of a baby born to a mother older than 19 years. Even if the child survives, he or she is

more likely to suffer from low birth weight, under-nutrition, and late physical and cognitive developments.[8] Such practices hamper the overall development of children as they are denied access to education, especially among girls. In the age of being creative, and instead of developing intellect, young shoulders are burdened with the additional responsibilities of childrearing and other social responsibilities. This situation becomes worse when a young girl is married to an old person in exchange for a sum of money. This promotes human trafficking, as in such arrangements girls are meant to give sexual favors only. Often, they become victim of domestic violence at such an early age when they are not mentally strong enough to complain against it. A study by UNICEF shows that 67% of girls married under the age of 18 years faced domestic violence, thus giving credibility to the aforementioned claim.[9] Girls are often treated like slaves as they are a source of cheap labor who are meant to do household chores. Early marriages are also appreciated as the mother-in-law gets a helping hand in daily chores.

Child marriage, despite being illegal according to law, is widely practiced in many countries such as India, Bangladesh, and Sub Saharan African countries due to the prevailing customs of their respective societies.[10] A huge number of children are married before the legal age of marriage, but the reality is even worse as a lot of child marriages go unnoticed due to unregistered marriages. Many international as well as national organizations are working day-in and day-out to curb the social malpractice due to its sheer violation of child rights, be it of either sex . A major change can be brought if acts like the Compulsory Registration of Marriages Act, 2006. and other initiatives by the government are implemented efficiently at the central as well as state level. The conscious of an educated and aware citizen knows the aftermath of child marriages well. In conclusion, awareness can also be the panacea to fight child marriages.

 


[1] Elizabeth Warner, Behind The Wedding Veil: Child Marriage as a Form of Trafficking in Girls, 12 Journal of Gender Social Policy and the Law, (2011)

[2] A Study on Child Marriages in India: Situational Analysis in Three States, National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development, 2008

[3] B Suresh Lal, Child Marriages in India: Factors and Problems, International Journal of Science and Research, (2015)

[4] Ibid

[5] Early Marriages : Child Spouses, Innocenti Digest, United Nations Children’s Fund, (2001)

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Supra Note (2)

[9] Supra Note (2)

[10] Tahera Ahmed, Child Marriage: A Discussion Paper, Bangladesh Journal of Bioethics, (2015)

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