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Child Marriage in India

Dr. Anita Samal, Professor

Faculty of Arts and Humanities


In the November of 2011, the United Nations General Assembly took a step towards addressing a major concern for women’s rights by adopting a resolution that designated 11 October as International Day of the Girl Child and chose ending child marriages as the theme of the day. A year later in 2012, the Indian Government introduced the POCSO Act, a legislation that aimed at protecting children from sexual assault, sexual harassment and to establish a special mechanism to deal with such offences. The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act was established much earlier in 2006.

Nearly two decades have passed by since then and yet the number of child brides in India stands at a staggering 223 million, a third of the global total, making India home to the largest number of child brides in the world. According to a UNICEF report, approximately 1.5 million girls under the age of 18 get married every year in India and nearly sixteen percent of all adolescent girls from the ages 15-19 are currently married. The National Family Health Survey – 5 reports that 26.8 percent of women aged between 20-24 years were married before the age of 18 years and 7.9 percent of the women aged 15-19 years were already pregnant or mothers by the time of the survey (2015-16).

This data gives us a picture of the status of child marriage in the country. While the percentage of women aged 20-24 who were married before 18 years of age has declined heavily since the previous survey, in a country with a population as high as India, the sheer number that this lesser percentage accounts for remains a cause of major concern. Legislations and initiatives have been undertaken to reduce this number and end child marriage in the country, the most recent of which was by the Chief Minister of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma.

In January 2023, the Chief Minister of Assam declared that the state would begin a statewide campaign to prevent child marriage in accordance with the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 (PCMA), as well as the POCSO Act. Under direction from the Chief Minister, the police were instructed to retrospectively detain anyone who has been involved in a child marriage in the past seven years. Men who got married several years ago have been detained as a result. Most likely, their brides are now grown women who, in some circumstances, have at least one child. If the husband is unavailable, the mother, father, or another member of the family (brother) is arrested.

While this move comes from a well-meaning sentiment, its consequences have proven to become far worse for women who were married off as children. Families have lost their primary means of financial assistance or have been split up. Many young ladies protested in vain outside police stations, claiming that they had chosen to marry and did not want to void their marriages. Although the CM’s goal of stopping child marriage is admirable, their overbearing tactics have been careless, disregarding the welfare of girls and their families. It is reversing significant advancements in pregnancy-related care from prior years and depriving girls and young women the freedom to make their own decisions.

There is evidence that sanctions and criminalization only promote child marriage underground and deliberately misrepresent the age of brides to encourage covert child marriage. Instead of such draconian measures, efforts to use the power of law as a deterrent, to stop child marriage without penalty, and to criminalize families, are more effective and effective for communities and families may be accepted. For example, many organizations have used the law to raise awareness about a wide range of people other than parents who can be punished for participating in child marriage. Some had her parents sign a pledge not to marry until their daughter was of marriageable age. Efforts were made to prevent child marriage, using the law to mobilize police and other government agencies to engage in activities to prevent child marriage and prevent forced marriage. Some organizations are distributing flyers and prominently posting local hotline numbers to encourage local residents to report child marriage. But even they are reluctant to prosecute and arrest anyone under the law, instead using the power of the law to prevent or discourage child marriage through intimidation and counseling. 

As we enter the Azaadi ka Amrit Kaal, we must keep in mind the particular needs of the Indian society while addressing issues of social evils such as child marriage. Activists and non-profit organizations must work hand in hand with law enforcement and devise a way to resolve the problem of child marriage in India that suits the needs of the society. 

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