Prohibition of Child Marriage Act [UPSC Notes]

The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) is an important current affairs topic for the UPSC exam. It is a part of the Social Empowerment segment of the General Studies Paper-II. In this article, you can read all about the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act and related issues for the UPSC exam.

Prohibition of Child Marriage Act

Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021, seeking to raise the legal age of marriage for women from 18 years currently to 21 years, was introduced by the Union Cabinet in the winter session of the Parliament in December 2021.

  • In India, during the 19th century, the marriageable age for women was 10 years. For the first time in 1928, the minimum age for marriage was fixed at 14 years for girls and at 18 years for boys through the Child Marriage Restraint Act (CMRA), 1929 (also called as Sharda Act).
  • In 1949, it was increased to 15 years for girls and in 1978, an amendment was passed to increase the age to 18 and 21 years for girls and boys respectively.
  • The Government of India enacted the Prevention of Child Marriage Act (PCMA), 2006 that replaced the earlier CMRA with the main motto of forbidding child marriages and protecting and providing assistance to the victims.

Also, in India marriage is governed by various other personal laws such as the Special Marriage Act, 1954; the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955; Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937; Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872; the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936; the Foreign Marriage Act, 1969.

Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021

The bill to raise the age of marriage from 18 to 21 years for women, was introduced by the Union Minister for Women and Child Development (MWCD), Smriti Irani, and was sent to the parliamentary standing committee for detailed scrutiny. This bill will override all the existing laws if passed.

The Government felt the need to introduce the changes for various reasons and also by considering the data of the recent National Family Health Survey (NFHS) and recommendation by the Jaya Jaitly committee.

The Reasons for Change

  • Recent evidence shows that the number of child marriages has increased during the lockdown and the pandemic, calling for the government’s immediate action to curb child marriage.
  • Bring uniformity in marriageable age of women at par with men.
  • Early marriage also has a huge effect on the Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) and Infant Mortality Rate (IMR).
  • The bill is also aimed at empowering women who are denied access to various social-economic benefits due to early marriage.

National Family Health Survey (NFHS) Data

  • NFHS-4 data of 2015-16 revealed that 27% of women under 18 years were married.
  • NFHS-4 also reported that 8% of girls between the ages of 15 and 18 were found to be pregnant.
  • NFHS-5 data of 2019-20 reported a drop in underage marriage to about 23%, which is still a substantial number considering the existing stringent rules.
  • Further, NFHS-5 data revealed that 7% of girls aged between 15-18 were pregnant.

Jaya Jaitly Committee Recommendations

The MWCD set up a committee in 2020 under the leadership of Jaya Jaitly to look at the feasibility of increasing the age of marriage and its implication on women and child health. Its recommendations are as follows:

  • Raise the legal age of marriage for girls to 21 years.
  • Awareness campaigns on the increase of marriage need to be held at a large scale to encourage social acceptance of the new law.
  • Further asked the government to increase the access to education facilities for girls.
  • Recommended to include sex education in addition to skill and business training in educational institutions.
  • The committee opined that the law will not be effective unless these suggestions are implemented first and women are empowered.

Prohibition of Child Marriage Act Critical Analysis

Merits

  • All women from all faiths will get equal and uniform rights in marriage, a step towards Uniform Civil Code.
  • Upholds the right to equality in terms of uniformity in the age of marriage between men and women.
  • The early age of marriage and pregnancies have huge implications on the overall health and mental wellbeing of mother and children, hence needs to be addressed.
  • A step towards women’s empowerment.

Concerns

  • The Bill was criticized to be violative of fundamental rights under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution.
  • It was criticized by the minority communities saying that the bill interferes with their personal law and is also a violation of Article 25 of the Indian Constitution.
  • It is also questioned as; on what basis the marriageable age is fixed at 21 years when both men and women have the right to vote at the age of 18.
  • Increasing the age of marriage will add to the existing difficulties of girls’ access to reproductive and sexual healthcare facilities.
  • Law would be coercive and have a negative impact on marginalized communities like SCs and STs.
  • This move would also criminalize a vast number of marriages and would add to the existing burden on the judicial system.

Conclusion

NFHS-4 data points out that, women with 12 or more years of schooling are most likely to marry late. This establishes a direct link between education levels and the age of marriage.

Similarly, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in 2018, suggested that “higher education levels lead to a lower chance of women being married early and suggested to amend Right to Education Act (RTE), 2009 to make it applicable up to the age of 18 years”.

The above data suggest that to truly empower women it is required to invest in addressing the fundamental issues that women face, rather than imposing coercive laws. Measures to increase their access to educational facilities, healthcare facilities, skill and career development, creating job placement and employment opportunities have to be introduced which will ultimately result in a delay in the age of marriage of women.

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