Child Marriage in India
A recent law passed by the Rajasthan Assembly calling for mandatory registration of all marriages including child marriages has brought focus on child marriage.
Despite the legal age of marriage for women being set at 18 years, it was found that in almost all States, women continued to get married before they turned 18. Forex. In Kerala, 6.3% of women are married under the age of 18.
- According to the National Family Health Survey 2019-21 (NFHS-5), 23% of women between the age of 20 and 24 were married before 18 years of age.
- This figure has reduced significantly from 47% in NFHS-3 (2005-06) to 27% in NFHS-4 (2015-16), and to 23% in the latest survey.
- Child marriage is more prevalent in lower castes and in lower economic classes of society.
- More prevalent in joint families
Reasons for Child Marriage
- Socio-cultural reasons
- Traditions and cultural mandates
- Demand for dowry
- Safety and security problems of girls
- Pressure from relatives and pressure from family members
- Cultural tradition is the most important factor.
- Caste, Customs, community and ethnic pressure
- Educational and economic backwardness
- If the children are married at an early age, they will not exercise deviant behavior of searching of their partners on their own, which can be out of the caste or community groups.
- Poverty in rural areas makes families believe that they do not need to go for family planning as more children will lead to more hands to work.
- Families think that boys will remain with them and girls will be married off in other families. So, they wish to marry them at an early age.
- Historical reasons: There was a belief that girls should get married before the onset of puberty.
- Legal and policy-related measures:
- The current act does not annul such marriages. It only gives the power to the bride to call off the marriage once she is an adult.Ineffective enforcement of legislation and laws
- Absence of females from the process of lawmaking.
Impact of child marriage
- Low levels of educational attainment
- Limited or even absent peer networks
- Restricted mobility and less access to mass media such as TV, newspapers and the internet as compared to unmarried boys or girls.
- Early pregnancy results in adverse health outcomes for both mother and child.
- Long relationship leads to the birth of many children leading to population growth.
- Plugging the legal loopholes.
- Creating awareness among females, families and communities about educating females and marriage at an appropriate age.
- Focused attention on locations where there is more prevalence of child marriages.
- Civil Society organizations and NGOs should be encouraged to tackle the issue.
- Strict enforcement of legal rights of children.
- Enforcement of the Right to Education Act, provisions should be made for free education of girl child till the university level.
- Progressively the minimum age for marriage for a girl child should be increased from 18 to 21.
Increasing Age of Marriage
The union cabinet has increased the age of marriage for women to 21 from 18 years.
Laws for the minimum age for marriage
- Hindu marriage act (1955), Indian Christian marriages act (1872) and Special Marriage Act (1954) prescribed the minimum age of marriage as 18 years for the bride and 21 years for the groom.
- Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 prohibits marriage below 18 years for women & 21 years for men.
The Rationale for Raising the minimum age of Marriage for Women
- The Constitution guarantees gender equality as part of fundamental rights and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex. The existing law does not adequately secure the Constitutional mandate of gender equality in marriageable age among men and women.
- The incidence of early marriage and childbearing are essential causes of undernutrition in India. Children born to teenage mothers are more likely to be underweight than children of adult mothers. India is home to more stunted children than any other country and is one of the ten countries with the most significant burden of teenage pregnancy.
- It is essential to reduce the incidence of teenage pregnancies, which are harmful to women’s overall health and result in more miscarriages and stillbirths.
- Early marriage often reduces women’s labour force participation and increasing the legal limit of minimum age will give more chances for women to work.
- Early marriages reduce educational and employment opportunities for women and make them financially dependent on men, which eventually results in a skewed division of labour in the domestic sphere.
- The age of marriage of females is a key factor that influences fertility. Demographic studies have revealed the apparent link between early marriage and increasing fertility rates.
World Bank estimated that developing countries like India can save billions of dollars if marriage before the age of 18 was eliminated due to reductions in fertility and consequent reductions in public health investments due to fewer births.
- Can be used by parents to punish their daughters who marry against their wishes or elope to evade forced marriages, domestic abuse and housework.
- According to NFHS-5 (2019-2021), 23.3% of women aged 20-24 years married before the age of 18, which shows that the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA), 2006, has not been successful in preventing child marriages.
- Increasing the legal age for marriage for girls will expand the number of persons deemed underage and render them without legal protection.
- India’s fertility rates have already been declining to well below replacement levels in many States, including those with higher levels of child marriage.
- Poverty and lack of higher education are major underlying reasons for early marriages. According to an analysis of NFHS-4 (2015-2016) data, 56% of girls were married below the age of 21 and this figure was as high as 75% among the poorest category of the population.
- Adults (Above age 18) should have the right to choose when they want to get married. Raising the minimum age of marriage above 18 compromises the choice and freedom of individuals.
Instead of focusing on the age of marriage, following steps may eventually reduce the age of marriage.
|Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017 |
The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act increases women’s leave entitlements from 12 to 26 weeks. Enterprises with 50 or more employees must also provide creches and allow the mother 4 creche visits daily. Although generous maternity leaves make it easier for women to combine work and family care, it can lead employers to discriminate against women in jobs because of the high cost of maternity leave.
Gender-balanced measures to be taken
Childcare shouldn’t be treated as the sole responsibility of women. So, it is advisable to give non-transferable paternal leaves or combined parental leave.
Ex: Iceland gives 9 months of parental leave- 3 months for the mother, 3 months for the father and the rest 3 can be shared between them.
Companies are less likely to discriminate against women if the govt bears the cost of maternity leave to some extent, especially for start-ups and small firms.
India largely lacks proper creche facilities and childcare centres. So, both govt and Private investment should be encouraged in the early childcare sector.
Flexible work timings for both sexes can additionally help with work-life balance.
Surrogacy (Regulation) Act, 2021
Parliament passed the Surrogacy (Regulation) Act, of 2021 to regulate unethical surrogacy practices in India.
- Definition: Defines surrogacy as a practice where a woman gives birth to a child for an intending couple with the intention to hand over a child after birth to intending couple.
- Regulation of surrogacy: Allows only altruistic surrogacy, which involves no monetary compensation to the surrogate mother other than medical expenses and insurance coverage during pregnancy.
- Eligibility criteria for intending couples: Surrogacy is permitted only for those intending married Indian couples who suffer from proven infertility.
- Eligibility criteria for surrogate mother:
- The surrogate mother has to be a close relative of the intending couple
- Can surrogate only once in her lifetime
- The surrogate mother cannot provide her own gametes for surrogacy
- Parentage and abortion of surrogate child:
- A child born out of a surrogacy procedure will be deemed to be a biological child of intending couple.
- An abortion of a surrogate child requires the written consent of the surrogate mother and the authorisation of appropriate authority.
- Regulation of surrogacy clinics: Surrogacy clinics are mandated to get registered by appropriate authorities. Central and State governments shall constitute National Surrogacy Board (NSB) and State Surrogacy Boards (SSB), respectively to advise govt on policy matters relating to surrogacy and laying down the code of conduct for surrogacy clinics.
- Deny this opportunity to LGBTQ+ persons, live-in couples and single parents.
- Altruistic surrogacy is paternalistic and doesn’t respect the bodily autonomy of women. It expects a woman to go through the physical and emotional tolls of surrogacy free of cost and only out of ‘compassion’.
- A blanket ban on commercial surrogacy may create unregulated, exploitative underground/ black markets.
- The act didn’t define ‘close relative’, which is a condition to be fulfilled by the surrogate mother.
- Restricting the surrogacy option to intending couples denies reproductive liberty to them.
- Intending couples don’t have the final say in the consent to abort a surrogate child, even if the child is born out of a surrogacy arrangement and is at risk of physical or mental abnormalities.