It is an incontrovertible fact that a large number of child marriages are performed in violation of the existing provisions of the law, particularly on ‘Akha Teej’ or ‘Akshaya Tritiya’. When child marriage takes place, the children are too young to understand what marriage means.
It is true that there is a large body of social opinion and customary practice that sanctions early marriage. It is a religious tradition in many places in India and therefore difficult to change. The dire consequences that follow child marriage, particularly for girls are – the child’s education is sacrificed, girls become more vulnerable to domestic violence and due to early pregnancies their health gets much worse. The babies born to girls under 16 are more likely to die during their first year of life. UNICEF describes child marriage as a “gross violation of all categories of child rights.” It is a social evil that has degraded the status of girl child in our society. Child marriage is against the law but the marriage itself is valid once performed, even if the child was as young as 5 years at the time. Police cannot make arrests without applying for a Magistrate’s order.
The present provision for simple imprisonment for 3 months and a fine has proved totally inadequate. To stop this menace, the law must make registration of all marriages mandatory. Stringency of punishment is the next important element in the strategy to tackle this menace. The appointment of anti-child marriage officers in every State, and making it a law that anyone who attends a child marriage has to report it, would help in checking child marriage.