The child marriage is the formalization of marriage of children before they attain the age of eighteen years without obtaining their consent. The child marriage is an illegal practice which is common in many nations particularly in India where one third of the child population are married. In child marriages the permission of the girls are insignificant. Such practice is widespread in rural areas and the consequence of the marriage affects both boys and girls. But after the commencement of various legislations and programmes, the percentage of child marriage has turned down to certain extent.
The Child Marriage Restraint Act also known as Sarda Act was enacted on September 28, 1929 and came into force on first day of April 1930 with an objective to control child marriage in India. The Act was amended in 1940 and thereafter in 1978 to rise the age of children both male and female. In 2006, the Indian Parliament enacted Prohibition of Child Marriage Act with slight modifications in the 1929 Act.
The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 defines ‘child’ as a person who has not attained the age of twenty one years in case of a male and the female shall not attain the age of eighteen years. ‘Child Marriage’ according to the Act means the marriage where either of the parties to the marriage is a child. The Act penalizes a male who attained the age of eighteen and below twenty one years for performing or enter into contract to perform child marriage. Moreover the Act also punishes a male above the age of twenty one years for entering into contract of child marriage.
Where a person is unable to prove that he has not performed or formalized child marriage, he shall be punished with imprisonment and fine specified in the Act. The parent or the guardian of a minor child promotes or helps in the solemnization of marriage between children, such person shall be penalized. Such person shall also be punished if he willfully neglects the prevention of child marriage, but a woman shall not be punished with imprisonment. The Act provides a presumption that where a minor enters into a contract for child marriage, the person responsible for such minor shall be deemed to have willfully neglected the prevention of such marriage.
For the purpose of investigation and arrest, the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 shall apply to the offences under the Act. The Act confers jurisdiction on the Metropolitan Magistrate or First Class Judicial Magistrate to take cognizance of the offence. The Court if satisfied that the child marriage is concluded or about to perform, it can grant an injunction against the persons involved in the marriage for prohibiting the marriage.
The fundamental purpose behind the Act was to eliminate the practice of child marriage which may endanger healthy life of the female children. The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 was repealed by new Central legislation Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. The Act made child marriage illegal and made it an offence punishable under law. According to the provisions of the Act, child marriage shall be void ab initio under certain circumstances. The Act also empowers the State Government to appoint prohibition officers as authorities under the Act for the purpose of preventing child marriage, collection of evidence, spreading awareness regarding the evil effects of child marriage, sensitization of the society etc. The legislation also increased the penalty for aiding or assisting child marriage to rigorous imprisonment up to two years.
In spite of these changes made in the new legislation, there still exists child marriage in different parts of the country. But the efforts from the part of international and national organizations has made significant contributions to eliminate child marriage and spread awareness to the local sections of the community regarding the ill effects of child marriage. The campaign has made positive results and has succeeded to far extents than the legislations.