Marriage before the age of 18 is a reality for many young women.
In many parts of the world parents encourage the marriage of their daughter’s while they are still children in hopes that the marriage will benefit them both financially and socially, while also relieving financial burdens on the family. In actuality, child marriage is a violation of human rights, compromising the development of girls and often resulting in early pregnancy and social isolation,with little education and poor vocational training reinforcing the gendered nature of poverty.
The right to ‘free and full’ consent to a marriage is recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – with the recognition that consent cannot be ‘free and full’ when one of the parties involved is not sufficiently mature to make an informed decision about a life partner.
The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women mentions the right to protection from child marriage in article 16, which states: “The betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage…” While marriage is not considered directly in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, child marriage is linked to other rights – such as the right to express their views freely, the right to protection from all forms of abuse, and the right to be protected from harmful traditional practices – and is frequently addressed by the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Child marriage was also identified by the Pan-African Forum against the Sexual Exploitation of Children as a type of commercial sexual exploitation of children.
Young married girls are a unique, though often invisible, group. Required to perform heavy amounts of domestic work, under pressure to demonstrate fertility, and responsible for raising children while still children themselves, married girls and child mothers face constrained decision-making and reduced life choices.
Boys are also affected by child marriage but the issue impacts girls in far larger numbers and with more intensity.
Child Marriage and Pandemic
According to a report published by ChildLine India the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown have proved to be new drivers of child marriages in rural Madhya Pradesh.
Important Findings by ChildLine India:
Madhya Pradesh recorded 46 child marriages between November 2019 and March 2020, a figure that jumped to 117 in just three months of the lockdown from April to June 2020.
Across India 5,214 child marriages were reported in the first four months of lockdown between March to June.
Some parents consider the age period of 15-18 as unproductive, especially for girls, so they start finding a match for their child during this age period.
Underaged girls are more prone to child marriage than boys.
The Right To Education Act makes education free and compulsory up to the age of 14 only. Research shows that after a girl is taken out of school at the age of 15, there is a strong possibility of her getting married at an early age.
Law and Order are still not able to provide a secure environment for the girls in adolescent age, so some parents get their girl child married at a young age.
Lack of Education:
Girls are often seen with limited economic roles. Women’s work is confined to the household and is not valued.
In addition, there is the problem of dowry. Despite the fact that dowry has been prohibited for five decades (Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961), it is still common for parents of girls in India to give gifts to the groom and /or his family either in cash or kind.
Causes for Increase during Pandemic:
Economic pressures due to the pandemic have pushed poor parents to marry off girls early.
With no schools, safety of children, particularly girls, was a major reason for increase in violence against children and child marriages.
Government Initiatives to Prevent Child Marriages:
The Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 restricts the practice of child marriage.
The Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 prescribe 18 and 21 years as the minimum age of consent for marriage for women and men respectively.
The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 was enacted to address and fix the shortcomings of the Child Marriage Restraint Act.
Union Ministry for Women and Child Development set up a committee to examine matters pertaining to age of motherhood, imperatives of lowering Maternal Mortality Ratio and the improvement of nutritional levels among women. The Committee is headed by Jaya Jaitely.
The Committee was proposed in the Union Budget 2020-21.
Prevention of Child Marriage is a part of SDG 5 which deals with gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls.
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