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The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006

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The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 prohibits marriage below 18 for girlsand 21 for boys.But some 80 % of Indians live in villages where family ,caste and community pressures are more effectual than any remote legislature.

By Ruchira Goswami, Guest Contributor

Upheld and sanctioned by traditional customs, child marriage is still significantly practiced across India.

The 205th Law Commission Report cites significant statistics on the scale of child marriages in India [1]. According to the report, in a study carried out in 1998 to 1999 on women aged 15-19 years, it was found that 33.8% were currently married or in a union. In 2000 the UN Population Division recorded that 9.5% of boys and 35.7 % of girls aged between 15-19 were married. The National Family Health Survey of 2005-2006 (NFHS-3) [2] carried out in twenty-nine states confirmed that 45% of women currently aged 20-24 years were married before the age of eighteen years, with 58.5% in rural areas and 27.9% in urban areas (27.9%) and exceeded 50% in eight states. Only five states of Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Kerala, Goa and Jammu and Kashmir report less than 20% of women married before 18. A Unicef Report prepared for a state consultation on Child Marriage in West Bengal in November 2009 states that over 39.5% of Indian girls are married before they are 18 years and 25.4% of girls are married by the age of 15. West Bengal has the 7th highest percentage of under age marriages amongst all states, where one in every two girls are married during childhood. In West Bengal 56% of girls are married by the age of 18 according to NFHS(3). Districts of Malda, Birbhum, Bankura, Murshidabad, South Dinajpur, Puruia, South 24 Parganas, Nadia and Cooch Behar have the highest incidence of child marriage. The Unicef report significantly mentions that even in the non slum areas in Calcutta where families are wealthier and girls are likely to have better education, more than a quarter of girls are married in childhood. In West Bengal, more than 25% girls are married to men who are ten years older or more. 7% of girls begin child bearing by the time they are 15, 34.8% by the age of 18 and almost 50% of girls are pregnant by the age of 19 in this state. The NFHS-3 findings further revealed that 16% of women aged 15-19 were already mothers or pregnant at the time of the survey.[3] The NFHS(3) stated that more than half of the Indian women in the age group of 20-49 were married before the legal minimum age of 18 compared to 16% of men in the similar age group who were married by 18.The 2001 Census of India revealed that 300,000 girls under 15 had given birth to at least one child.

A Brief History: Salient Cases in Colonial India

Two significant cases in the nineteenth century brought the issue of child marriage into limelight. The Rukhmabai case in Maharashtra and Phulmonee case in Bengal as they are popularly known raised significant questions about the age and issue of consent in Hindu marriage. Both the cases marked the tension between the Hindu orthodoxy on one hand that upheld child marriage and perceived any opposition to it as an affront to tradition and social reformers opposing such religious bigotry on the other hand. For the latter such blind adherence to social norms meant the continuation of harmful practices in the name of tradition and therefore necessitated immediate challenge of such socially sanctioned practices including child marriage. While the debate on child marriage is often understood as a tradition-modernity dichotomy, it is also important to bring to the fore the struggle by women themselves in these cases to challenge patriarchal values and practices, albeit in their limited ways.

The case of Rukhmabai dates back to 1884 when twenty two year old Rukhmabai refused to consummate her marriage solemnized at the age of eleven. Rukhmabai was eleven years when she was married to Dadaji Bhikaji, a poor cousin of her stepfather Sakharam Arjun. On reaching puberty few months after her marriage, the expected ritual was that of garbhadhan or the ritual consummation of the marriage. However, such early consummation was not encouraged by Sakharam and so Rukhmabai remained

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