NHRC's two day's National Conference on Child Marriage begins: Several inconsistencies in law pointed out as a hindrance to curb the menace ( 29.08.2018)


New Delhi, 29th August, 2018

The National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, India began its two day's 'National Conference on Child Marriage' in collaboration with the South Asia Initiative to End Violence against Children (SAIEVAC) at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi today on the 29th August, 2018. Mrs. Jyotika Kalra, Member, NHRC, delivering the presidential address, said that the inconsistencies in different legal provisions, having a bearing on children and their marriage, need to be identified and synergized to end child marriage in India.


She said that a law needs to be put in place to make the age of marriage for both the boys and girls uniform in tune with the expressions to this effect at highest levels, including from the Supreme Court as well as the Law Commission of India. It should not be 21 years for the boys and 18 years for the marriage of girls as there is no scientific data to support this difference in their ages.

The NHRC Member also said that the registration of marriages should be made compulsory. The Supreme Court as well as the Law Commission has already pointed out this, but it is not clear whether all the states have put in place the necessary rules to this effect. She pointed out that in India, the child marriage also has to do with the socio-economic factors and the lack of literacy, particularly, among the lower strata of society, wherein some celebrate the birth of a heifer more than that of a bull calf unlike the birth of a female and a male child.

Therefore, besides building awareness on the ills of child marriage, the priority should be given to bring uniformity in the legal provisions to end this menace by amending the inherent contradictions and inconsistencies in the provisions of various Acts including the Prohibition on Child Marriage Act, Hindu Marriage Act, The Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, The Indian Penal Code provisions to end the inconsistencies and also build awareness.

For instance, Mrs Kalra said that as per Indian Penal Code, 12 year old child bride can suffer "assault" on her by her 29 year old husband, in order to establish his marital rights. If wife is below 15, then the husband can be charged for the offence of rape. However, here also the law makes a distinction between a wife below 12 and a wife over 12. Under Section 376 when the wife is below 12, the penalty is imprisonment which shall not be less than seven years but which may be for life or for a term which may extend to 10 years and fine. If, however, the wife is above 12 but below 15, the punishment is milder i.e imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years or fine or both.

Earlier, Mr. Ambuj Sharma, the Secretary- General, NHRC, addressing the gathering, said that it is a matter of shame that the rate of child marriage still remains very high though the national average of child marriage for females is down from 47.4% to 26.8% and for males from 32.3% to 20.3% respectively. SAIEVAC Director General, Dr. Rinchen Chophel, CSO Coalition representative, Ms. Razia Ismail also addressed the inaugural session of the Conference, sharing their concerns on the issue which require to be addressed through legal and policy frameworks.

The main objective of the Conference is to revisit the issue of child marriage from a human rights perspective at the national level by consulting experts from the government and non-government organizations, civil society organizations and other forums so as to make a call for a national action plan on ending child marriage and set a time target to achieve this.

The Conference, besides the inaugural session, is divided into five thematic sessions, which will examine/review existing legal and policy frameworks and their application, identify gaps and distil out strategic interventions to end child marriage. The development of this initiative, thus, is a uniquely participatory process in India and is further supported by the CSO Coalition to End Child Marriage.

Several stakeholders including senior officials from the Ministry of Women and Child Development, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and State Commissions for Protection of Child Rights, representatives of various state governments, subject experts in law, development and culture and civil society organizations are participating in the discussions.