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No Minor Offence
Census data reveals high level of under – age marriages
Census statics are generally full of surprises. But this one is startling: 6.4 million Indians under the age of 18 are already married. That’s not all. As many as 1.3 lakh girls under 18 are widowed and another 56,000 are divorced or separated. The legal marriageable age for women is 18, for men 21. A century and a half after Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar’s crusade against child marriage, the practice persists. Obviously, the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, exists only on paper and has not been able to deter parents from marrying off under –aged sons and daughters. The incidence is understandably higher in rural areas, but not low as expected in the cities. It’s more common in the BIMARU states, with Rajasthan leading the way ironically, the Act renders all under-age marriages illegal but not void, which means that an illegally married couple can stay married. It is, therefore, violated with impunity and hardly anyone is ever hauled up. Despite the fact that child marriage is a criminal offence, action is rarely taken by the police. Even civil society remains a passive spectator. There’s not enough penalty-a fine of Rs.1, 000 and imprisonment up to three shows that the state does not view the crime seriously. The practice is linked to the curse of dowry. “Chhota Chhora dhhej kam mangta” (the younger the groom, the smaller the dowry demand) justifies many such alliances. The grimmest part of the scenario is the physical havoc that early marriage wreaks upon girls who are too young to bear the burden of maternal and child mortality. There is also the belief that a daughters’ marriage is a scared obligation that parents must fulfill at the earliest. A new legislation, Prevention of Child marriages Bill, 2004, to replace the loophole-ridden 1929 Act is awaiting parliament’s...
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