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Child Marriages in India: A Legal Overview

Child marriage, a practice rooted in gender inequality and poverty, is a severe concern in India despite its prohibition by law. This practice subjects children, particularly girls, to harmful consequences such as early pregnancies, increased likelihood of poverty, and hindrances to education and overall development.

Legal Framework Against Child Marriage

In India, the legal age for marriage is set by the 'Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006' (PCMA), which clearly defines a "child" as a male under the age of 21 and a female under the age of 18. This legislation also holds provisions for punitive actions against those promoting, performing, or participating in child marriages.

Main Provisions of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006

  • The Act declares child marriages as voidable at the option of the contracting party who was a child at the time of marriage.

  • The Act penalizes promoting or permitting a child marriage and imposes severe punishments including imprisonment and fines.

  • The Act also assigns a Child Marriage Prohibition Officer in each state to prevent and manage the issues of child marriage.

Relevant Case Laws for Child Marriages

Several landmark judgments shed light on the judiciary's stand on child marriages.

  1. Independent Thought vs Union of India (2017): The Supreme Court of India ruled that sex with a minor wife, within marriage, would amount to rape and hence, is a criminal offense under the IPC. This landmark judgment was crucial in highlighting the physical dangers of child marriage.

  2. Seema vs Ashwani Kumar (2006): The Supreme Court directed compulsory registration of all marriages irrespective of religion to prevent child marriages and other related abuses.

  3. Lajja Vati vs State (1961): The High Court of Punjab and Haryana held that marriage of a girl under 15 years of age is not void but voidable at the option of the girl, now a provision under the PCMA.

These judgments highlight the judiciary's commitment to upholding the rights of children and the strict view taken against child marriages.

Challenges and the Way Forward

Despite legal restrictions, child marriage continues to persist due to deep-seated social norms, poverty, and lack of education. Therefore, along with stringent laws, it is crucial to invest in girls' education, empower women, raise awareness about the ill-effects of child marriage, and address the social norms promoting such practices.

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