Child Marriage

Child Marriage

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines it as "a formal marriage or informal union entered into by an individual before age 18."

 Child marriage in India is defined as a marriage where one of the parties involved is under 18 years of age. The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 makes it illegal and sets the minimum age for marriage at 18 for girls and 21 for boys. 

However, child marriages still occur in many parts of India, especially in rural areas and among marginalized groups. The negative consequences of child marriage include early pregnancy and childbirth, which can lead to maternal and infant mortality, as well as social, economic, and educational disadvantages for the girls involved.

In India, the minimum legal age for marriage to a girl is 18, while for boys, it is 21.

Today's tragic statistics on child marriage include the following:

  • The number of married or cohabiting females between the ages of 15 and 19 is currently around 40 million.
  • Every year, 4 million girls under 15 marry before they turn 18, making up about 12 million more brides than women who marry before turning 18.
  • As a result of reported increases in gender-based violence because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Save the Children's Global Girlhood Report calculates that an additional 2.5 million girls will be at risk of child marriage globally between 2020 and 2025.
  • After pandemic lockdowns and school closings, we predict that up to 15 million girls and boys will never return to school. Children who do not come home again are more likely to get married young, work as children, and join the military.
  • One hundred fifty million girls are predicted to miss their formative years because of child marriage by 2030.

Impact of Child Marriage

Child marriage has significant detrimental effects on the social, economic, and health outcomes of the individuals involved and the broader society. 

  • This archaic practice perpetuates gender inequality and reinforces patriarchal norms, leading to limited opportunities for personal and economic growth for girls and boys alike. 
  • It poses a significant risk to maternal and child health, with early marriage and early childbirth resulting in adverse outcomes such as maternal mortality, premature birth, and low birth weight. 
  • Child marriage deprives girls of access to education, skill development, and income-generating opportunities, leading to financial dependence and economic vulnerability. 
  • Furthermore, it exposes child brides to increased risks of domestic violence and sexual abuse, which can have long-lasting physical and psychological consequences. 

The continued prevalence of child marriage is not only a violation of human rights but also has broader societal impacts, including perpetuating poverty and violence and impeding social and economic development.

Child Marriage in India


  • According to UNICEF estimates, at least 1.5 million girls under 18 are married in India annually, making it the country with the most child brides in the world, making up a third of the total.
  • Root Causes of Girl Child Marriage: Child marriages occur in a social and economic context influenced by various preconceived notions about the status of women and girls and their responsibilities as wives and mothers.
    • Those who believe that girls must marry young to be safe and protected and those who worry about the potential risk to family honour or financial burden are all associated with the reality that women perform domestic work and caregiving.
    • Another factor is the preference for boys, which results in more daughters than desired.
      • The issue is less prevalent in wealthy families who can pay for more kids.
      • Families that have limited resources wean their daughters off prematurely. 
    • Some parents believe that the age range of 15 to 18 is pointless, especially for girls, so they begin searching for their child's match during this period.
      • Girls are more prone to be a victim of child marriage than boys. 
      • Additionally, only up to 14 is education free and required under the Right to Education Act. 
  • Findings from the National Family Health Survey regarding Child Marriage: Prior to the Covid law, one in four Indian girls were getting married before the age 18, according to data from the National Family Health Survey's fourth round (NFHS4) in 2015–16.
    • At the time of the survey, 8% of women between the ages of 15 and 19 were either mothers or pregnant.
      • According to reports, more child marriages have occurred during the Covid pandemic.
    • The NFHS5's first phase results (2019–20) also do not indicate appreciable advancements in the fight against child marriage.

Issues Related to Child Marriage

  • Violation of Human Rights: Girls' human rights are violated by child marriage, which also virtually erases them from public policy.
    • The right to an education, the right to leisure time, and the right to protection from mental or physical abuse, including rape and sexual exploitation, are some of the fundamental rights.
  • Disempowerment of Women: Since child brides cannot finish their education, they remain reliant and underpowered, which poses a significant obstacle to achieving gender equality.
  • Related health problems: Teenage pregnancy, stunting in children, population growth, inadequate educational opportunities for children, and reduced employment of women are all costs associated with child marriage.
    • Teenage wives typically have low status in the home, which condemns them to long hours of domestic work, poor nutrition and anemia, social isolation, domestic abuse, and less control over household decisions.
    • Low birth weight is also caused by poor education, malnutrition, and early pregnancy, perpetuating the intergenerational transmission of malnutrition.
  • The inefficiency of conditional cash transfer (CCT); If they meet specific predefined requirements, this program provides money to households.
    • Most states have used CCTs as their primary policy tool to end child marriage over the past 20 years.
    • They are unable to alter social norms on their own. The lived realities of adolescent girls may not always be responsive to generalized conditions.

Laws framed by Administration for Child Marriage

  • Indian Penal Code (IPC): The IPC does not specifically criminalize child marriages, but Section 366 on forced marriage makes it an offence to kidnap or abduct a woman to force her into marriage or to use any other form of coercion.
  • Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (2006) : The PCMA, which aims to forbid child marriages, has established child marriage as a cognizable and non-bailable offence. A marriage is considered a "child marriage" if either of the parties is a "child," which is defined as a person under the age of 21 for men and 18 for women. 
  • Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021; The Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was presented to the Lok Sabha on December 20, 2021. Despite the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA), 2006, the bill claims that the "highly pernicious practice of child marriage" persists. Therefore, "this societal issue must be addressed urgently, and reforms must be implemented." It suggests bringing the age of consent to marriage for females up to 21. According to the statement, the law would also take precedence over any conflicting provisions found in personal laws.

Personal Laws and Child Marriage in India 

  • Hindu Marriage Act (HMA): The HMA makes it illegal for boys and girls to get married before they turn 18 and 21, respectively. The punishment provisions only apply to the married couple; even when child marriage occurs against the parties' will, neither the parents nor guardians who arranged the marriage nor the officials who officiated at the ceremony face any consequences. 
  • Muslim personal laws: Muslim personal laws in India are not codified, but they stipulate that a person must reach puberty before getting married, which is generally considered 15 years old. Muslim law views marriage as a contract, making it illegal to marry a girl over this age without her permission.
  • Indian Christian Marriage Act: According to the Indian Christian Marriage Act, a preliminary notice must be published at least 14 days before any marriage of a girl under 18 or a boy under 21. Any person under 21 is considered a minor and cannot get married before the preliminary notice period has passed without parental or guardian approval.
  • Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act: The Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act deems a girl's marriage before the age of 18 to be invalid. However, age is not mentioned in the clause outlining the criteria for annulling a marriage.
  • Jewish personal laws: According to uncodified Jewish personal laws, the minimum age for girls to marry is puberty, which is assumed to occur at the age of 12 years. Marriage before puberty is strictly forbidden, but marriage after that age is considered legal and valid.

Gaps and Loopholes in India's Laws on Child Marriage

The Indian government's Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) was passed, but it has not done much to stop child marriage. In addition to creating practical barriers to accessing the legal system, flaws and gaps in the legal system also contribute to the continued impunity for India to have two distinct legal systems that regulate marriage-related rights and obligations: general laws that apply to the entire country and religious-specific personal status laws that only apply to particular communities. 

These gaps are exacerbated by flaws in criminal and civil laws about women's rights, such as laws on dowries, rape, domestic violence, and child sexual assault; laws on guardianship; and laws on reproductive rights, education, and child labour. The legal system must be strengthened to eliminate the discrimination that makes women and girls more prone to getting married as children and restricts accountability in marriages between girls to end child marriage.

Differing ages of marriage for boys and girls:

  • The PCMA establishes a lower age for girls than boys and offers a different definition of "child" based on sex. 
  • The Indian Majority Act and the Juvenile Justice Act (Care and Protection Act) 2000 (JJA), which define "child" as anyone under the age of 18, regardless of sex, respectively, disagree with this.
  • Legal experts have stated that reducing the legal drinking age for females reinforces prejudiced beliefs and assumes that women's intellectual and physical development differs from men's or does not matter when they get married.
  • This clause may also affect girls' ability to escape child marriages because they have a shorter window of time to do so—until age 20—compared to boys, who have a longer window until age 23.

Child marriages are voidable & consent is not required for marriage. 

  • Child marriages are not acknowledged as categorically constituting forced marriages under the PCMA. 
  • In contrast to other child marriages, which are treated as voidable under Section 3, Section 12 treats marriages entered under duress or coercion as void ab initio if the minor contracting spouse to the union successfully obtains a decree of nullity within two years of reaching majority.
  • The PCMA does not establish or affirm that consent is a requirement for a marriage to be legally valid, nor do any other general laws on marriage. 

Onus on girls who seek to annul marriages. 

  • Under the PCMA, a child must initiate the legal procedure within two years of reaching a majority for child marriage to be declared "voidable." 
  • The burden placed on girls to start the process, even when they are aware of their legal protections, is excessive and prohibitive, especially in light of their financial limitations, lack of support from their families and society, their lack of decision-making authority, and their difficulties in getting in touch with the police and other government officials. 

Confusion as to the primacy of the PCMA over personal laws.

  • Since its inception, there has been debate over whether the PCMA supersedes personal laws based on religion, which set its standards and guidelines for marriage solemnization and dissolution. 
  • When it comes to lower marriage ages, restrictions on girls' ability to annul or leave child marriages, and the acceptance of parental consent as sufficient justification for child marriage, personal laws frequently go against the PCMA's standards.

Way Forward

  • Interventions in policy: Lawmaking is a key part of the plan to end a girl-child marriage in India.
    • The state of Karnataka amended the Child Marriage Prohibition Act 2017 to make all child marriages illegal from the start, punishable by law, and subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of strict imprisonment for anyone who facilitates a child marriage. Similar techniques can be applied to the main level.
  • Governmental Initiatives to Promote Social Change: Teachers, supervisors, panchayat and revenue staff, and other field bureaucrats who interact with rural communities and work for different departments should be made aware that they are child marriage prohibition officers.
    • Decentralizing birth and marriage registration to gram panchayats will also safeguard women and girls by providing them with important age and marriage documents, improving their ability to assert their rights. 
  • A Fundamental Role for Social Change's Drivers: These consist of supporting young women in using their education to secure a living, expanding secondary education, and providing access to safe and affordable public transportation.
    • Education expansion goes far beyond simply increasing access to it. Girls need to be able to attend class consistently, stay enrolled, and succeed.
      • In order to prevent teenage girls from being forced out of school, states can use their system of residential schools, girls' hostels, and public transportation, particularly in underserved areas.
    • Continuous gender equality discussions with high school girls and boys are required to frame progressive ideas that will last into adulthood.
  • Measures for empowerment: To stop child marriage, empowerment measures are also necessary, like community engagement through initiatives like Mahila Samakhya.
    • Village assemblies for kids in gram panchayats may offer kids a chance to express their opinion.  
  • Economic expansion is necessary to prevent child marriage. India needs to change both culturally and economically to ensure that girls marry later.
    • This has happened to some extent as Indians' standard of living has improved, and the prevalence of extreme poverty has decreased.
    • Economic expansion will stop Indian girls from getting married as children. Economic success is a long-term fix when combined with cultural and educational awareness against a sex preference, which will undoubtedly take longer.