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At different points in the history of almost all societies around the globe, including Europe, the United States and the Middle East, early and child marriage has been a prevalent practice. Out of the global population of 68 million women (2011 census) aged 20-24 who married before 18 years of age, more than one-third or 24 million live in South Asia, as per a report by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).
The highest prevalence rate of child marriage in South Asia reported by 20-24 year-olds was in Bangladesh (where two out of every three girls married before age 18), followed by lndia, Nepal and Afghanistan.
Child marriage as defined by Indian Law is a marriage in which the girl or the boy is underage, i.e., under 18 years of age for the girl and 21 years for the boy.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), child marriage is a violation of human rights as consent cannot be ‘free’ and ‘full’ when at least one partner is immature. Yet many girls, and also boys, enter into marriage without any chance of exercising their right to choose.
According to a UNICEF 2014 study, about 700 million women around the world reported being married before 18 years compared to 156 million men.
Child marriage is most common in the world’s poorest countries. The highest prevalence rates of women in the age group 20-49 years reporting entering marriage before 18 years are in:
Child marriage is one of the most pressing developmental challenges also in Iran (where the marriageable age for girls in 13) and Pakistan (where approximately 21% of girls in the country married off before the age of 18).
Child marriage in lndia is an age-old practice that has both social and religious sanctions and cuts across all sections of the society. The country ranks 6th among the top 10 countries with high rates of child marriage among women.
Nearly 103 million Indians living as on 1 March 2011 were married as children, of this 85.2 million were girls, according to the report “Elimination of Child Marriage in India: Progress and Prospects” released by Action Aid India.
Girl child marriages account for 30.2% of the currently married female population of the country and the elimination of this alone could add 5% (or 27 million) more literate women and increase India’s GDP by 1.7%.
The report also made the following revelations:
Data by NCPCR puts Rajasthan with the highest number of child marriages in the country (2.5%), followed by Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Bihar.
lndia has ratified almost all the international conventions on human rights, especially those with relevance to child marriage and protection of young people. These include the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) as well as the Optional Protocol to CRC on Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography.
Several provisions in the Constitution of lndia impose on the State the primary responsibility of ensuring that all the needs of children are met and that their basic human rights are fully protected. Children enjoy equal rights as adults as per Article 14 of the Constitution. Article 15(3) empowers the State to make special provisions for children.
There is an array of laws (criminal and civil), both at the national and state levels to ensure the best interests of children.
The Penal Code of 1860 declared consummation of marriage as rape if the wife was below10 years of age and prescribed severe punishment. This was followed by various Acts that penalised child marriage. The Child Marriage Act of 1872 raised the age of marriage to 14 years for girls. The Age of Consent Act prohibited consummation below 12 years of age in 1925 and raised it to 13 years in 1928.
Any person can report an incidence of child marriage before or after it has been solemnised. An immediate report needs to be made to either of the following authorities – the police, the child marriage prohibition officer or such persons as may be appointed to assist him/her, first class judicial magistrate or metropolitan magistrate, child welfare committee or a member of the child welfare committee, child line, district magistrate.
The complaint can be filed by any person, including those who report an incidence of child marriage – a person who has reason to believe that a child marriage is likely to take place, a person who has personal information, a parent or guardian of the child, school teachers, doctors, Anganwadi workers, village level workers, SHG members, village elders, neighbors, etc.
As per NCPCR, in recent times, there has been an increase in the incidence of child marriage amongst families in situations of forced displacement. Out-of-school girls are more susceptible to child marriage, which has leapt fourfold among Syrian refugee girls in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan.
In India, child marriages exist as a traditional cultural and religious practice, despite global recognition that it is perhaps, one of the worst forms of violations of human rights.
Situation analysis by NCPCR reveals that there has been only a slow and negligible change over time in the incidence of child marriage for boys and girls and new urban sites in certain states are reporting high incidences of child marriage.
Various reasons reported in the literature of child marriage may be grouped into familial characteristics: poverty, lack of education, caste, birth-order, and family size, etc. The other contributory reasons emanate from the socio political system, such as patriarchy and practices associated with gender discrimination. The practice of child marriage is strongly rooted in gender in inequality of our culture, in particular, the discrimination against girls in matters of education, employment, sexuality and sexual behaviour.
Marriage at a young age has far reaching consequences for both girls and boys in terms of their overall development and in making important life decisions and securing basic freedoms, including pursuing opportunities for education, earning a sustainable livelihood and accessing sexual health and rights.Child marriage has profound physical, intellectual, psychological and emotional impact children. lt results in cutting off childhood, educational opportunities, attainment of employment and curtails the role the children can take as adults to productively contribute in their own development and to the economy of the country, For girls, it enlarges their fertility span, which almost certainly results in premature pregnancy and multiple pregnancies and is likely to lead to a lifetime of domestic and sexual subservience over which they have no control. Combined with malnutrition, it often results in physical wastage, birth complications and delivering of low birth-weight babies with reduced chances of survival, adding to both higher infant mortality and maternal mortality ratio.
The Logical Indian community strongly condemns child marriage and is appalled at the high number of such cases in India and the world. The practice can be prevented only when we, as a society, oppose to such discrimination and patriarchy. Children are the future of our country; they should be educated and forced into responsibilities beyond their mental and physical capacities.
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