Child marriage is one of the harmful traditional practices that violate child rights. A child marriage victim gets deprived of all rights, including right to health, education, protection and development.
According to National Family Health Survey-4 (2015-16), 21.3 percent of women aged 20-24 (21.7 percent in rural areas and 19.5 percent in urban areas) were married by age 18 in Odisha. Men aged 25-29 years, who married before 21 years, constitutes 11 percent (urban: 8.1 percent; rural: 11.7 percent).
Legislations have been enacted and rules have been framed to prohibit child
marriage but are still not adequate; they need amendments and improvements.
Recently, Karnataka took an exemplary step. Based on the recommendation of the core committee formed as per the judgment on the Writ Petition No. 11154 of 2006 of the High Court of Karnataka, the state brought consequential amendments to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, (central Act 6 of 2007).
The major changes include declaring every child marriage void ab initio, enhancing the penalty under sections 9, 10, 11 and 13; and enabling concerned police officer to take notice of an offence suo motto.
In a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court of India on Oct 11, 2017 recommended other states to amend the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 to make all child marriage void, following the example of Karnataka.
The judgement goes as follows: “It would be wise for all the State Legislatures to adopt the route taken by Karnataka to void child marriages and thereby ensure that sexual intercourse between a girl child and her husband is a punishable offence under the POCSO Act and the IPC. Assuming all other State Legislatures do not take the Karnataka route, what is the correct position in law?”
The apex court also said that the most obvious and appropriate resolution of the conflict has been provided by Karnataka – the state legislature has inserted sub-Section (1A) in Section 3 of the PCMA (on obtaining the assent of the President on Apr 20, 2017) declaring that henceforth every child marriage that is solemnized is void ab initio.
Therefore, the husband of a girl child would be liable for punishment for a child marriage under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA), for penetrative sexual assault or aggravated penetrative sexual assault under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and if the husband and the girl child are living together in the same or shared household it will be considered rape under the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
The relevant extract of the Karnataka amendment reads as follows: “(1A) Not withstanding anything contained in sub-section (1) [of Section of the PCMA] every child marriage solemnized on or after the date of coming into force of the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Karnataka Amendment) Act, 2016 shall be void ab initio”.
Karnataka has set the context. It is now our turn to bring appropriate amendments, especially on making child marriage void. This will be definitely help to reduce the rate of child marriage and will be a compliance of the Supreme Court direction.
The writer is a development worker based in Odisha. He may be contacted at 9438341794 or over mail at firstname.lastname@example.org