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Child Marriage in India: How the PCMA 2006 is Addressing the issue

Child Marriage in India

Context: Child marriage, despite being banned in India since 1929 under the Child Marriage Restraint Act, continues to persist as a deeply rooted problem with various underlying causes.

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The recent efforts in Assam to combat child marriages using the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 (PCMA), along with the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act, 2012 (POCSO), have faced criticism for being overly harsh. Here’s an overview of child marriage in India and the related legal framework:

Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 (PCMA):

  • PCMA, 2006 prohibits child marriages for all Indian citizens.
  • It sets the minimum marriageable age at 18 years for women and 21 years for men.
  • The Act provides for penalties, including a maximum of 2 years in prison, a fine of up to 1 lakh rupees, or both, for offenders.
  • The PCMA Amendment Bill 2021 aims to raise the minimum marriageable age for females to 21 years to align it with males.

Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO):

  • POCSO is enacted to protect children from sexual offenses like assault, harassment, and pornography. It defines a child as any person below eighteen years of age.
  • The Act recognizes non-bailable, cognizable offenses, allowing for arrests without a warrant and imprisonment for up to 20 years.
  • It establishes Special Courts for the trial of these offenses and related matters.

Why Assam Acted on Child Marriages?

  • Assam has the highest maternal mortality rate (MMR) in the country, with 195 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to the national average of 97, as per the 2018-20 Sample Registration System report.
  • Child marriage significantly increases the risk of maternal mortality because minors are often unprepared mentally and physically for childbirth.
  • The crackdown on child marriages in Assam is a response to the need to address and improve the high MMR in the state.

Data on Child Marriages in India:

  • According to the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5) by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for 2019-21, 23.3% of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before the age of 18 (equivalent to one in four), and 61% were married before reaching 21 years of age.
  • West Bengal has the highest prevalence of child marriages at 41.6%, followed by Bihar (40.8%), Tripura (40.1%), and Jharkhand (32.2%). In Assam, the figure stands at 31.8%.

Reasons for Child Marriages in India:

  • Poverty
  • Low levels of education for girls
  • The perceived financial burden associated with girls
  • Social customs and traditions

Initiatives to Curb Child Marriage in India:

  • The Indian government conducts awareness campaigns, media initiatives, and outreach programs.
  • The Ministry of Women and Child Development administers the ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (BBBP)’ scheme.
  • Various schemes like Dhanalakshmi, Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana, and Balika Samridhi Yojana are implemented to empower and protect girls.

Efforts to eliminate child marriage in India require not only robust legal measures but also a multi-faceted approach addressing the socio-economic factors and cultural norms that contribute to this deeply entrenched issue.


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