The first social reform issue which was taken up by the organized women in India was the “Child Marriage Restraint Act”, or the “Sharda Act” od 1929. Its goal was to eliminate the dangers placed on young girls who could not handle the stress of married life and avoid early deaths. This act prohibited marriage involving girls below the age of 15 years old, and boys below 18.
Although this is a victory for the women's movement in India, the act itself was a complete failure. In the two years and five months it was an active bill, there were 473 prosecutions, of which only 167 were successful. The Act remained a dead letter during the colonial period of British rule in India, and this was largely due to the fact that the colonial British government did nothing to propagate awareness of it, especially in smaller towns and villages of India.
In 1978, the law was amended to make it more effective and raise the minimum age of marriage by three years: from 15 to 18 years in case of girls and from 18 to 21 years in case of boys.
To ensure that child marriage is eradicated from within the society, the Government of India enacted the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 replacing the earlier legislation of Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929. The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 (PCMA, 2006) was notified to overcome the constraints of the former legislations in effectively dealing with the problem of child marriages in India and to put in place a comprehensive mechanism, and still exists as the primary legislation dealing with child marriage today.
The PCMA applies to all citizens of India regardless of religion, with exceptions for the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the Union Territory of Pondicherry.Under the PCMA:
• The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 makes it illegal for girls to marry under 18 years and for boys under 21 years. Child marriage can be made voidable by the child but within two years of becoming an adult.
• Child marriage is a punishable offence with a fine up to INR 100,000, or up to two years of imprisonment, or both. It is a non-cognizable and non-bailable offence.
• Dowry was prohibited in 1961 by the Dowry Prohibition Act, with a fine up to INR 15,000, or the dowry amount, whichever is higher, and imprisonment for between six months and five years.
Other laws that may provide protection to a child bride include the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, the Domestic Violence Act, 2005, and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012. The government has also used adolescents’ empowerment programmes (Kishori Shakti Yojana), awareness-raising to encourage behaviour change related to child marriage and cash incentives (such as theDhanLaxmi scheme and the Apnibetiapnadhun programme).
DID APNI BETI APNA DHAN HELP PREVENT CHILD MARRIAGE? In a nutshell, not really. Although the programme gave families an incentive to keep their daughters in school until the 8th grade, ICRW found that it had no effect on girls getting married before 18.
Only a small proportion of girls (14%) were married when the programme was evaluated. Most telling, there was no significant difference between girls who took part in ApniBeti Apna Dhan and those who didn’t. The programme accompanied a shift that was already happening in the state of Haryana – girls staying in school longer and delaying marriage – but did not cause the change.
On the contrary, the programme may have encouraged families to marry off their daughters once they turned 18. Girls whose families benefited from the conditional cash transfers were 59% more likely to be married once they turned 18 than girls who hadn’t participated. In fact, many families waited to cash in the money at the end of the programme as they saw it a way to cover their daughter’s marriage and dowry expenses.
Yet just as there is a lack in government ability to transform policy into action, so is there a potential for NGOs to fill this gap with information.HEEALS(Health, Education, Environment And Livelihood Society), is an organization directly involved in girls education and child marriage in India. It is working on Water Sanitation, Menstrual Hygiene and Children Education projects in seven states. Through spreading education on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene and organizing WASH and MH workshop, HEEALS is working to increase the attendance rates of girls in schools who drop out from school due to child marriage. HEEALS works in marginalized communities, slum schools, schools in unauthorized colonies, orphanages and refugee camps to increase the attendance rates of pupils in schools who leave their studies, reduce the number of diseases and deaths and improve the health of people across Indian society.
WASH & Children Health Education
· Goswami, Ruchira (2010). "Child Marriage in India: Mapping the Trajectory of Legal Reforms".
· Wikipedia – Child Marriage in India, Child Marriage Restrain Act of 1929