Child marriage is one of the most worrisome problems in India. Boys and especially girls, who are supposed to play, learn and live a free life are married off at a very young age, and this not only affects their freedom but also takes a severe physical and mental toll on these young kids.
The Government of India has recognised this and has made child marriage a non-bailable offence. Girls above 18 years of age and boys above 21 years of age can get legally married in India.
According to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, the marriage between a man above 18 years of age with a woman below 18 years of age, is punishable with imprisonment of two years, a fine of up to Rs 1,00,000, or both.
However, there was still one issue with this act—although child marriage is a non-bailable offence, the act recognised it as “voidable”, but valid.
This injustice is set to change.
The National Crime Records Bureau stated that a total of 326 incidents of child marriages had been reported in the country in 2016. Officials fear that the actual number is far higher than this.
The crime is reported only in the rare instances when the girl child or a concerned party gathers enough courage and resources. Even then, the marriage is not considered null and void, unless the girl is enticed or compelled out of her guardians’ care by force.
The Union Ministry for Women and Child Development (WCD) has now decided to amend this law, making child marriage invalid from the outset, or “void ab initio.”
A senior government official spoke to Hindustan Times about the proposed amendment. “WCD minister Maneka Gandhi has approved the proposal,” he said, adding that “We have sent it to the law ministry for vetting. Once the law ministry clears it, we will move the cabinet.”
Jayna Kothari is the executive director of Centre for Law & Policy Research and supported the argument to make child marriage ‘void ab initio’ in Karnataka, as a counsel for Child Rights Trust. She told Hindustan Times about the on-ground situation when it comes to child marriage and law.
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“Child marriage is rampant here [Karnataka] because the law is completely toothless. It says that the minor contracting party can nullify child marriage, but it is impractical to expect a minor to come forward and complain. The minor’s family also hardly comes forward to get the marriage annulled. The marriage becomes a kind of fait accompli (done deal).”
The WCD has unquestionably taken positive steps for victims of child marriage. Not only will the offenders be behind bars, but the marriage will also be annulled legally from the outset.
Edited by Gayatri Mishra.