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Odisha’s Ganjam district declared as free of child marriage

Odisha’s Ganjam district declared as free of child marriage

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  • GS 1 || Indian Society || Women || Issues Concerning Women

Why in the news?

Odisha’s Ganjam district declared as free of child marriage

Present Context:

  • Ganjam in Odisha has declared itself the state’s first child marriage-free district. In two years — 2020 and 2021 — the district administration was able to prevent up to 450 child weddings and video record 48,383 marriages.
  • Following verification, the Ganjam administration declared it a child marriage-free district. Sarpanchs and task force committee members had given recommendations stating that no child marriages had occurred in their respective localities.

Child Marriage:

  • Child marriage is a social phenomenon that happens in many Indian civilizations in which a young child (usually a girl under the age of fifteen) marries an adult man.
  • In a second sort of child marriage practise, the parents of the two children (the girl and the boy) arrange a future marriage.
  • The people (the boy and the girl) do not meet until they are of marriageable age, at which point the wedding ceremony is performed. To marry, males must be 21 years old, while females must be 18 years old.
  • Gender disparity, social standards, girls‘ perceived low status, poverty, lack of education, safety concerns for girl children, and sexuality control are all assumed to have a role in the high rate of child marriages. Girls in rural areas are more affected than their peers in urban areas.

Factors leading to child marriage in India:

  • Lack of education: Education is a major driver of marriage age. According to NFHS-4, approximately 45 percent of women with no education and 40 percent of women with primary education married before the age of 18.
  • Seen as a Burden: Economically, child marriages function as quick revenue earners. A girl child is viewed as a stepping stone to a hefty dowry, which will be provided to her family upon her marriage.
  • Poverty: In terms of economic position, women from low-income families marry earlier. While more than 30% of women in the poorest two wealth quintiles were married by the age of 18, only 8% of women in the richest quintile were married by the age of 18.
  • Social background: Child marriages are more common in rural areas, as well as among Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
  • Trafficking: Poor families are lured to sell their daughters into prostitution rather than marriage since the transaction allows enormous sums of money to benefit the girl’s family while harming the girl. There is apathy about their daughters, and the proceeds from the sale of their daughters are used to help their boys.
  • Liability: Girls are frequently perceived as a liability with a limited economic role. Women’s work is limited to the home and is undervalued. Furthermore, there is the issue of dowry. Despite the fact that dowry has been illegal in India for over five decades (Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961), it is nevertheless typical for parents of females to offer presents to the groom and/or his family, either in cash or in kind. The dowry sum rises with the girl’s age and academic level. As a result, the “incentive” of the dowry system fosters juvenile marriage.
  • Social protection programmes: Families and girls who could benefit from social protection programmes are not always aware of them, and these programmes are sometimes limited to giving cash transfers without accompanying messaging to address the multifaceted nature of child marriage..

Effects of child marriage:

  • Health risks: Girls who marry at a young age are more likely to face the health risks associated with early sexual beginnings and pregnancy, such as HIV and obstetric fistula.
  • Domestic violence, sexual abuse, and social isolation are all too common among young girls lacking in position, power, and maturity.
  • Early marriage almost always deprives girls of their schooling or meaningful work, contributing to poverty.
  • Gender inequity: Child marriage perpetuates a vicious circle of gender inequity, disease, and poverty.
  • Marriage of young girls before they are physically mature results in the highest rates of maternal and child death.

Child marriage is prohibited in India as per the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006:

During the nineteenth century in India, the marriageable age for women was ten years. The Child Marriage Restraint Act (CMRA), 1929, established the minimum age for marriage for the first time in 1928, at 14 years for girls and 18 years for boys (also called as Sharda Act).

It was raised to 15 years for girls in 1949, and in 1978, an amendment was voted to raise the age to 18 and 21 years for boys and girls, respectively.

The Government of India enacted the Prevention of Child Marriage Act (PCMA), 2006, which replaced the previous CMRA, with the main goal of prohibiting child marriages and protecting and assisting victims.

What does this law do?

  • This law:
    • Allows anyone who was a child at the time of marriage to legally undo it;
    • Provides for maintenance for the girl in a child marriage;
    • Recognizes children born out of child marriages as legitimate, and provides for their custody and maintenance;
    • Considers certain types of child marriages where there was force or trafficking as marriages that never happened legally.
  • What is a crime under this law?
  • It is a crime:
  1. For an adult male to marry a child wife;
  2. To perform or assist in any way with a child marriage;
  3. To enable, encourage, or fail to prevent a child marriage (as a parent or guardian);
  4. To attend or participate in a child marriage (as a parent or guardian).
  • Where can you go to stop or undo a child marriage?
    • Can move immediately to a District Court and file an application; the judge can issue an order directing the parties involved not to participate in the child marriage.
    • A Child Marriage Prohibition Officer can assist with annulling a child marriage.

Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021:

In the winter session of Parliament in December 2021, the Union Cabinet recommended raising the legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years.

The bill to raise the marriage age for women from 18 to 21 years was introduced by Union Minister for Women and Child Development (MWCD), Smriti Irani, and was referred to the parliamentary standing committee for further review. If passed, this bill will supersede all existing legislation.

The government was compelled to make the modifications for a variety of reasons, including data from the most recent National Family Health Survey (NFHS) and recommendations from the Jaya Jaitly committee.

  • The Reasons for Change:
    • Recent information indicates that the number of child weddings surged during the lockdown and epidemic, requiring the government to take fast steps to reduce child marriage.
    • Bring women’s marriageable ages into line with men’s.
    • Early marriage also has a significant impact 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.

Issues associated with the bill:

  • Article 19: The Bill was criticised for violating fundamental rights granted by Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. Minority communities have criticised the bill, arguing that it interferes with their personal law and breaches Article 25 of the Indian Constitution.
  • Same age of marriage: It is also questioned why the marriageable age is set at 21 years old although both men and women may vote at the age of 18.
  • Raising the marriage age will exacerbate females’ already difficult access to reproductive and sexual health care.
  • Disproportionately affect underprivileged: The law would be coercive and would disproportionately affect underprivileged communities such as SCs and STs.
  • This bill would also criminalise a substantial number of weddings, adding to the legal system’s already onerous workload.

Child marriages in India:

  • Although national statistics is not yet available, estimates imply that at least 1.5 million girls under the age of 18 marry in India each year, making it the country with the highest number of child brides in the world — accounting for one-third of the global total.
  • While the proportion of girls marrying before the age of 18 has decreased from 47 percent to 27 percent between 2005-2006 and 2015-2016, it remains too high.
  • The drop could be attributed to a variety of factors, including higher maternal literacy, improved access to education for girls, stringent regulation, and migration from rural to urban regions.
  • According to NFHS-4 statistics from 2015-16, 27 percent of women under the age of 18 were married.
  • NFHS-4 also stated that 8% of girls between the ages of 15 and 18 were pregnant.
  • According to NFHS-5 statistics from 2019-20, underage marriage has decreased to roughly 23%, which is still a significant number given the present tough rules.
  • Furthermore, NFHS-5 statistics revealed that 7% of girls aged 15 to 18 were pregnant.
  • Increased rates of girls’ education, proactive government investments in teenage girls, and strong public messaging about the illegality of child marriage and the harm it causes are all contributing factors to the shift.
  • Child marriage is included in Goal 5: “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.”
  • Target 3 states that “all harmful practises, such as child, early, and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation, must be eliminated.”

Way Forward:

  • Policy Interventions: Legislation is a key component of the strategy for eradicating girl-child marriage in India.
    • In 2017, Karnataka modified the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, declaring all child marriages void from the start, making it a punishable offence, and instituting a minimum time of harsh imprisonment for anyone who facilitates a child marriage. The same thing can be done at the central level.
  • Governmental Action for Social Change: All field officials who interface with rural communities, including teachers, anganwadi supervisors, panchayat and revenue staff, should be designated as child marriage prohibition officers.
    • Furthermore, decentralising birth and marriage registration to gramme panchayats will provide women and girls with important age and marriage documents, allowing them to effectively assert their rights.
  • Social Change Drivers to Play a Fundamental Role: These include increased secondary education, access to safe and affordable public transportation, and encouragement for young women to use their education to earn a living.
    • Education expansion goes well beyond simply increasing access to it. Girls must be able to attend school on a regular basis, stay there, and succeed.
    • States can use their existing network of residential schools, girls’ hostels, and public transportation, particularly in impoverished areas, to ensure that teenage girls do not drop out of school.
    • Regular gender equality discussions with high school girls and boys are required to create progressive attitudes that will last until adulthood.
  • Empowerment Measures: Empowerment measures, like as community engagement through programmes like Mahila Samakhya, are also essential to end child marriage.
    • Youngsters’s village assemblies in India’s gram panchayats can give a forum for children to express their issues.
  • Economic Growth is required for Child Marriage Prevention: Ensuring later marriage for girls requires India to evolve not only culturally but also economically.
    • Some of this has occurred as Indians have become richer, and as extreme poverty levels have decreased, as has the number of child brides.
    • Economic progress will prevent Indian girls from marrying as children. Combined with educational and cultural awareness in the face of a sex preference, which will undoubtedly take longer; economic success is a long-term solution.

Mains oriented question:

Drivers of social change like as education, legal provisions, and awareness-raising campaigns still have a long way to go in terms of ending girl child marriage. Comment. (200 words)