WCD Ministry Calls for Total Ban on Child Marriage
The Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) is looking to convince the Cabinet to outlaw child marriages completely, reports The Indian Express. Presently, India’s Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) 2006 does not automatically consider child marriage void by default; child marriages between a boy below age 21 and a girl below 18 can only be voided if either the bride or the groom, who were married when they were underage, requests an anullment via a guardian or within two years of becoming an adult.
“We have circulated a draft Cabinet note that proposes to make child marriage ‘void ab initio’. The note seeks to amend Section 3 of PCMA, under which currently child marriage is only voidable at the option of contracting parties,” an official from the WCD Ministry told The Indian Express.
That option is often not available to child brides (or grooms, but most often brides). Without legal protections, in a land that legally recognizes child marriage, without resource, and subject to familial pressures, many child brides don’t request nullification — not because they are happy with their union, but because they can’t.
We’ll leave aside the bizarrely unequal demarcation that allows boys three more years of childhood under the law, for the moment. India has the sixth-highest incidence of child marriage among women, per a 2014 UNICEF report; the average age of marriage among the poorest group of Indian women married is 15 and a half. Regardless of income level, however, 26.8% of women are married before age 18 and 20.3% of men before 21 years.
While an amendment to the PCMA will be welcome, it is far from the full answer to eliminating child marriage. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, (for Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains) and the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, 1939, recognize marriages in which one or more of the parties is a minor, and only allow annulment if a girl was married before age 15 — not age 18 as stated in the PCMA. What’s more, she must apply for an annulment before she turns 18.
“Muslim personal law allows girls who have attained puberty, considered to be 15 years, to get married. Both the Indian Christian Marriage Act and the Hindu Marriage Act are lenient enough to allow child marriage to persist,” reports the Indian Express.
If approved, this amendment would invalidate all child marriages from the start, though not marriages contracted under India’s unique religious marital laws. India has been moving in this direction (albeit slowly) for some time; in October 2017, the Supreme Court ruled sex, even consensual sex, with a minor wife was rape. It’s time to move all the way. Hopefully, this request by the WCD Ministry marks the start.