Will the government's new plan to curb child marriages work?

[caption id="attachment_94004" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Child marriage India accounts for 24 million child brides out of 60 million all over the world [/caption]

That child marriage is one of the worst social traditions in the world is without doubt. Not only does it rob millions of young boys and girls of their childhood but in girls it also forces them to have adolescent pregnancies when their body is simply not ready to bear the burdens of child bearing. The Indian government has time and again tried a variety of laws to repel child marriage but the practise remains prevalent, particularly in rural India. In fact, India accounts for 24 million out of the 60 million child brides in the world, a staggering 40%.

After a comprehensive discussion the government believes that enforcing the 2006 Child Marriage Act, promoting the right to quality education for girls and generating a change in social norms and attitudes regarding marriage is the key to curbing child marriage. According to a recent press note released by the Ministry of Women and Child Development: 'Nearly half of women age 18-29 (46 percent) and more than one-quarter of men age 21-29 (27 percent) are estimated to have married before reaching the legal minimum age at marriage. It is believed that the main reasons for early marriage are cultural factors, social practices and economic pressures interacting with poverty and inequality. Thus, the issue of child marriage is steeped in several multi-dimensional social, economic, cultural and community related aspects.' (When will we stop killing the girl child?)

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Based on a comprehensive discussion the government has devised a new draft plan to prevent child marriages. The main focus will be to:

1) To enforce the 2006 act and related laws and policies to protect children and adolescents against child marriage and promote gender equality

2) To promote the right to quality education at all levels with a special emphasis on girls.

3) To generate a change in social norms and attitudes regarding child marriage and role and status of girls in society.

4) To empower and build capacities of adolescent boys and girls to access services and make informed decisions in matters affecting their lives.

5) To generate knowledge and data to inform programmes and policies.

6) To develop and establish monitoring and evaluation systems to measure outcomes.

7) To enhance convergence across line Ministries, departments and other stakeholders.

The aforementioned points were made after a draft plan was discussed at Lucknow on July 8 2013 and in a National Consultation at New Delhi on 18 July.

The National Plan of Action defines goals, objectives, and strategies besides delineating roles of different stakeholders. It adopts strategic interventions which will be implemented by various stake holders viz. Central Government, State Governments, local self governments, Civil Society, and NGOs using convergent and multi-dimensional approaches.

Previous plans to curb child marriage

The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929

The first marriage act was enacted during British times and focussed mainly on restraining the legality and solemnization of child marriage.

The Child Marriage Act, 2006

This act made several amendments to the previous act and planned for serious punitive action against those who perform, permit or promote child marriage. Under this Act, child marriage is defined as the marriage of males below the age of 21 years, and females below 18 years. It also provides for annulment of a child marriage and gives a separated female the right to maintenance and residence from her husband if he is above 18 or in-laws if he is a minor until she is remarried.

This Act came into effect in November 2007. The States are vested with powers to formulate rules for implementation of this legislation and carrying out the provisions. As per information provided by the States/UTs, so far 24 UTs/ States have framed rules and 20 States/UTs have appointed Child Marriage Prohibition Officers. The Central Government is regularly pursuing with the State Governments for appointment of Child Marriage Prohibition Officers and notification of state Rules.

The National Plan of Action for Children, 2005

The act which mainly focussed on children also includes goals to eradicate child marriage and mainly focuses on protecting the girl child by establishing a National Commission for Protection of Child Rights in 2007 for proper enforcement of children's rights and effective implementation of laws and programs relating to children.

The government has also declared Jan 24 National Girl Child Day and takes special efforts to delay marriage on AkhaTeej the traditional day for such marriages. (Born t00 soon - the dangers of premature birth) view

It's indeed strange that while minority issues considerably raises the temperature of political debates, no one really bothers about a major minority issue like child marriage. Recently, the Indian government refused to sign the United Nations resolution to curb child marriage, a resolution that was actually signed by 107 other countries. The reason the government gave was the early marriage wasn't defined properly and there was no clarity on the legal implication.

The real reason isn't that hard to understand. Religion plays a big, big part in Indian society; in fact, there are separate laws for each religion when it comes to marriage (though only registered marriages are recognised by courts). We as a nation seem very bothered about protecting religions sentiments, which seem to get hurt a lot. Common offenders are movies, books, pieces of art and other such harmless objects. But India's proud of being a secular democracy where even a member of a minority community can live in peace. After all what is the point of a democracy if it can't protect its minorities? But the fact is that women and girls too are a minority, in fact the largest minority. Isn't it time we started respecting their fundamental rights as well?

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