Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929

The Child Marriage Restraint Act was a legislative act passed on 28 September 1929. The act fixed the marriageable age for girls at 14 years and 18 years for boys. It is popularly known as the Sharda Act after its sponsor, Harbilas Sarda.

The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, presently sets the marriageable age to be 18 and 21 for boys and girls respectively.

To know more about the legislations passed in British India, visit the linked article.

Overview of the Child Marriage Restraint Act

A cursory detail of the act is given in the table below:

Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929

Long Title An Act to define the age of marriage in India
Territorial Extent The whole of British India with Princely states being exempted.
Enacted by Imperial Legislative Council
Enacted 28 September 1929
Commenced 29 September 1929
Status Amended

How was the Child Marriage Restraint Act Formed?

Various bills addressing questions on the age of consent were introduced in the Indian legislatures and defeated. The All India Women’s Conference, Women’s Indian Association and National Council of Women in India, through their members developed and articulated the argument in favour of raising of the age for marriage and consent before the Joshi Committee.

Muslim women presented their views to the Joshi Committee in favour of raising the age limit of marriage even when they knew that they would face opposition from Muslim Ulemas.

The Joshi Committee presented its report on 20 June 1929 and was passed by the Imperial Legislative Council on 28 September 1929 and became a law on 1 April 1930, after approval from Lord Irwin extending to the whole of British India. It fixed 14 and 18 as the marriageable age for girls and boys respectively of all communities.

To know more about the Governor Generals of Bengal and India, visit the linked article.

What is the significance of the Child Marriage Restraint Act?

The Child Marriage Restraint Act was the first social reform issue taken up by an organized women’s group in India. This group pressured many politicians into supporting the act by picketing their delegations, holding placards, and shouting slogans. They believed that the passing of this act would show the world that India is serious about social reforms.

By showing support for this act, women in India were challenging the double standards of the ancient Shastras. Declaring they would begin to make their own laws, free of male influence, the women’s organization brought liberal feminism to the forefront.

Although this was 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 list goes on with 207 acquittals, with 98 cases still pending during August 1932. Out of the 167 successful prosecutions, only 17 or so did either all of or part of their sentence. The majority of cases were in Punjab and the United Provinces.

UPSC 2021

Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 – UPSC Notes:- Download PDF Here

However, the Act remained a dead letter during the colonial period of British rule in India.

As per Jawaharlal Nehru, this was mainly because the British colonial government did nothing to propagate awareness of it, especially in smaller towns and villages of India.

In his autobiography, Nehru elucidates that this was largely due to the fact that the British did not want to earn the displeasure of the communal elements among the Hindus and Muslims.

In the 1930s, the only parties in India that continued to support British rule were these communal groups. The British government did not wish to lose its support. Hence, they completely avoided implementing this and similar social reforms, instead of focusing their attention on preventing the Indian freedom movement. Thus, their infamous “Dual Policy” prevented any significant social reform in India.

Frequently Asked Questions on Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929

Q 1. What is the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 and what was the objective of introducing it?

Ans. The Child Marriage Restraint Act was passed in 1929, wherein, the minimum age for a girl’s marriage was set to 14 years and that for boys was fixed at 18 years. The Act was later amended and the age for girls was fixed at 18 years and for boys was changed to 21 years.

Q 2. What is the punishment for child marriage?

Ans. Anybody found conducting, directing or performing a child marriage shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment which may extend to two years and shall be liable to fine which may extend to one lakh rupees.

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