In a regressive move, Rajasthan’s state assembly passed a bill on the 17th of September for compulsory registration of marriages, and have included child marriages in these!
On Friday 17th September, the Rajasthan State Assembly passed a bill in order to amend the Rajasthan Compulsory Registration of Marriages Act, 2009. The act provides for a mandatory registration of marriages within a span of 30 days, including child marriages.
The Bill mentions that a marriage union between a bridegroom who has is below the age of 21 years and a bride who is below the age of 18 years could be registered by their parents or their guardian by the 30th day of marriage.
Shanti Kumar Dhariwal, the Parliamentary Affairs Minister, mentioned that, “This amendment is not in contradiction to the central law. The Supreme Court has also ruled that there should be compulsory registration of marriages. Hence, the bill includes child marriages.”
In effect, Rajasthan just declared their child marriages valid by this roundabout route, making it possible to register a criminal offence as a legal alliance. This could unravel the efforts of at least a century to outlaw child marriage in India.
A very short history of child marriage laws in India
Child marriage, though termed a social evil, has made its presence felt throughout the history of this country.
- Since the pre independence era we had eminent personalities like Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar crusading tirelessly against child marriage.
- Initially, in 1929, the Child Marriage Restraint Act was passed which restricted the marriage of girls below the age of 15 and boys below the age of 18.
- The law was then amended in 1978 to increase the legal age of girls and boys to 18 years and 21 years, respectively.
- It was only after the passing of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act in 2006 that child marriage statistics saw a steady decline by 27%.
The 2006 Act made child marriage in India a punishable offence with almost two years of incarceration and upto 1 lac rupees fine. It also stated that marriage consummated between children would be considered null and void alongside setting up of provisions for redressal of their grievances.
The pandemic has increased child marriages in India
Pre-pandemic, India was making steady progress in terms of eliminating child marriages; the pandemic could mean an absolute reversal of the trend, with a sharp increase seen in child marriages. With schools and colleges opting for online classes the number of students dropping out has spiked. With a sharp rise in unemployment and increasing poverty, young girls are the most vulnerable group.
The UN Child agency, UNICEF suggested that though 110 million child marriages took place globally, almost 25 million were averted over the decade 2011-2020, but that this trend could be reversed with 10 million more girls at the risk of child marriage in the decade 2021-2030.
With every third child marriage taking place in India and ranking fourth among eight South Asian countries in terms of child marriage, this would be catastrophic for our children. Almost half of Indian child brides live in five states- Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Uttar Pradesh, alone, has 36 million child brides, the largest in the country.
The Opposition staged a walkout to protest the bill while Sanyam Lodha, an independent MLA from Sirohi called it a “black law”. The National Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) said that they would “examine” and “do the needful to protect the interest of the children”.
Child marriages mean minors forced into a situation beyond their control where they are sexually exploited, early pregnancies, and a lack of sufficient education to be able to get out of this situation, and means lifelong trauma in a myriad ways. We do not need them to be legitimised by such myopic or even deliberate laws that may exploit loopholes.
Overall, the bill would mean moving back in time for the country as well as a serious threat for the lives of innumerable women and children.
Here is a list of non-governmental organizations working tirelessly to end child marriage.
Image source: a still from the web series Bulbbul
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