- Child marriage refers to the practice where either one or both the parties to the marriage have not attained the age of majority.
- According to the Indian laws the marriageable age for a male is 21 years and 18 years for females.
- It is considered a gross violation of human rights.
- This practice ruins the lives of young children leaving physical, psychological, and emotional scars for life.
Child marriage is one of the oldest and distressing traditions of Indian society. It refers to a social phenomenon where a young girl usually below the age of fifteen is married to an adult man. Another form of child marriage is where the parents of the children would arrange a future marriage. In this kind of marriage both, the girl and the boy do not meet each other until they reach marriageable age. Child marriage is considereda gross violation of human rights, leaving physical, psychological, and emotional scars for life. Usually, sexual activities start soon after marriage, and pregnancy and childbirth at an early age can lead to maternal as well as infant mortality. Moreover, it has also been observed that girls who marry at a younger age are more likely to experience domestic violence within their matrimonial home.
Many factors are considered to be the reasons for the prevalence of child marriages in India. For example, Gender inequality, social norms, perceived low status of girls, poverty, lack of education, safety concerns about girl children, and control over sexuality. Several incentives have been introduced by many states to delay such marriages. For example, the state of Haryana introduced the program named“Apni Beti, Apna Dhan” in the year 1994, which is a conditional cash transfer program that is dedicated to delay young marriages by providing a government-paid bond in her name and the amount of Rs.25, 000 in her account only on the condition that she is not married on her 18th birthday.
Reasons responsible for Child Marriages in India
The discrimination against women usually begins from the womb. This discrimination is reflecting in their education, family, socio-political spheres, employment, and workplace. The child marriage system is also a reflection of these discriminations against women. Many factors are responsible for child marriages which are as followed:
In rural areas, females and female children are denied their equality to common resources when a family is poor. Female children are usually the main victim of the poverty of the family. A poor family usually jeopardizes female children so that the burden of a female child is avoided. Therefore, poverty is one of the reasons why families naturally resort to child marriages to avoid all sorts of the burden of a female child.
• Social Insecurity
One of the major social factors for the cause of child marriage is social security. Many people have this perception that a married woman is much safer from societal offences than an unmarried woman. Unmarried women are viewed with malafide intentions that lead to crimes against them. So, to be secure from these offences, assaults, teasing against unmarried girls, their parents are in a hurry to marry their daughters soon after she attains puberty or even before that.
• Avoiding expenditure on Female Education
In rural areas, families usually discriminate between boys and girls. They prefer to invest in the education of the male children of the house as they are considered as the future assets and economic base of the house that will work and earn money whereas female children are not expected to work and are forced to look after the household chores before and after marriage. Due to these reasons, female children are given less or no priority.
Social Effects of Child Marriage
- Inabilities to Plan or Manage Families-Young girls exercise less influence and control over their children and do not have the knowledge or ability to make decisions about their nutrition, health care, and household management.
- Desire for Male Child-Due to the desire for a male child, especially in rural household’s young girls and women are often forced to conceive as many times as they can until they can give birth to a male child.
- High difference in age between bride and bridegroom-Generally, there is a lot of age difference between the bride and the bridegroom. In most child marriages it is the bride who is a child and not the groom. When the bride is the child, she naturally does not have any freedom to express her opinions on any of family life and she has to blindly obey the orders of her husband.
Health Consequences of Child Marriage
• Isolation and Depression
Once the girl child is married, they are taken to their husband’s household, where they assume the role of wife, domestic worker, and, eventually a mother. Their new households can be in a different village or town. In such marriages, husbands are usually much older than the girls and thus have little in common with each other. As a result, the girls are left feeling rejected, isolated, and depressed. Due to this, they lose their childhood and the opportunity to play, develop friendships, and be educated is taken away from them.
• Risk of Sexually Transmitted Infection
Parents generally believe that marrying their daughters at an early age protects them from HIV/AIDS. Several researches have shown quite the opposite. It is revealed that if a girl is married before the age of 20 years, she has a risk factor for HIV infection. These girls are infected by their husbands. Because the girls try to prove their fertility, they have high-frequency, unprotected intercourse with their husbands. Their older husbands either had prior sexual partners or were polygamous. Other sexually transmitted infections, such as herpes, gonorrhea, and chlamydia, are also more frequently transmitted and enhance the girls’ vulnerability to HIV.
• Risks During Labor and Delivery
It is a common saying that deliveries from child marriages are “too soon, too close, too many, or too late”. Girls between the ages of 10 and 14 years are 5 to 7 times more likely to die during childbirth while girls between the ages of 15 and 19 years are twice as likely. High death rates are secondary to eclampsia, sepsis, HIV infection, malaria, and obstructed labor. Girls aged between 10 to 15 years have small pelvises and their bodies are not ready for childbearing, which results in various health complication and often death of the mother.
Laws against the Child Marriage in India
• The Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929
The Child Marriage Restraint Act, which is also popularly known as the Sharda Act. It was enacted to restrain the practices of Child Marriage in India. This act fixed the age for marriage of a male child as 21 years and 18 for a female child. The punishment prescribed for a male to member between the age gaps of 18 to 21 was the imprisonment of 15 days or a fine of Rs.1, 000 or both. The punishment prescribed for a parent or guardian of a child taking place in the child marriage was the imprisonment of up to three months or a possible fine.
• The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006
This act prescribed the marriageable age for a male as 21 years and18 years for a female. Under the provisions of this act a decree of nullity can be obtained by a girl who was forced into child marriage within 2 years of attaining the age of 18 years. The Child Marriage Act prohibited child marriage in India and provided several punishments and reliefs to the girl child for the same.
• Hindu Marriage Act, 1956
The Hindu Marriage Act was enacted in 1955. This act does not provide any specific provisions for punishing the parents or people who solemnize child marriage. However, it introduced the concept of nullity of marriage and divorce. A girl can get the marriage annulled if she was married before attaining the age of fifteen years and she challenges the marriage before turning eighteen.
From the above discussion, it can be concluded that Child Marriage is a social menace that cannot be curbed easily without the support of society. Early marriages, affect the girl child’s reproductive and mental health the most. The child brides suffer from high rates of health complications such as pregnancy-induced hypertension, higher mortality rates, premature delivery, high incidence of miscarriages, and stillbirths.
The risks of early marriage are not just limited to the girl child alone, but also to the child that is born out of that marriage as a result of early pregnancy. The infant mortality rates are also high along with instances of premature delivery and low birth weight of the newborn child.