Author-Anchal Gupta Child marriage, as the term itself defines �when a child gets married�. It actually doesn�t require that both the parties to marriage have to be child; any one of the parties could also suffices the need. And this is one of the ill practices still followed in few parts of India. If we could see it through the lens of rights based perspective it is actually structured institution of continuous abuse with a girl.
Well when we talk about marriage as per Indian laws the legal age of marriage for girls is 18 years and for boys 21 years. If it is a mentioned law then why does Indian Penal Code, our criminal code while defining Rape keeps out specifically a girl of 15 years who is a wife out of its ambit of rape victim? On the other side now when we have another enactment Protection of children from sexual offences Act, 2012 which was enacted with a sole intention to recognize child abuse and describes about special procedures while dealing with a survivor of child sexual abuse. The whole purpose behind the act was providing a space to the child so that the traumatic experience he/she has gone through couldn�t hamper the mental and physical development of a child and should be in the best interest.
Now coming back to the issue of marriage and child, if the law has clearly mentioned that anyone who is below 18 years of age is a child and therefore the consent couldn�t be free, which is an important consideration to enter into any sexual activity. And as we all know marriage is broadly about consummation which is in lay man language about �Sex� at first. So how could be a wife who is 15 or above (until 18) could give her full free consent for marriage or the sexual activity she has to encounter with. And if any sexual activity is without consent then it is actually abuse, even if it is with in marriage. Though in India we don�t accept the fact about marital rape but just by ignoring something we can�t escape ourselves from the truth.
Now the second question which would be raised will be if there is marital rape then why can�t women come and speak about it aloud, as the law and other framework talks about women empowerment. Darling! this is important to make note of who would asking this question, mostly you would find men raising such protest when there is talk of marital rape. Whereas there will be a sec of women who will be silent about it but there silence doesn�t mean they are denying the same. Might be they couldn�t gather courage to speak about it, might be they are scared of the consequences, might be they are not even able to recognize it or any other reason.
We can�t actually waive off the entire stigma around a girl and marriage. The few of them are: at first the girl should be younger to the groom (god know how it is gonna make any difference), then her family have to arrange for dowry only to sought a good life for their daughter (which somehow makes the girl to be a burden), then she should be fresh for marriage (shouldn�t have got into any sexual activity before, to be more precise should actually know about SEX which will lead her to shy and not able to restrict and there she comes within the ill proverb �ladki kii naa me hi to haan hoti hai� and �Sharam hi to ladki ka gehna hai�), later she should accept herself to be subordinate or below the man (in everything) she has married to, under whose dictates whatsoever it is, she has to live as her parents has suffered a lot to get her married or say married her off and arrange for dowry, she doesn�t even know or taught about contraceptives or that she could say �No� to any wrong act being imposed on her, the list will never end if you start actually thinking about the life of a girl from all the perspectives. So now taking the points out from the above mentioned notes/situations what suits best for a family who couldn�t pay more is to marry off their girl child in early age to anyone who is willing to marry and it would be a grace for them if someone no matter how old in age willing to pay money to the parents for marriage.
I wonder this is the practice that the girl should be younger in age then the groom but why does there is difference in the legal age of marriage according to law? Why the boy has to be 21 years to marry whereas the girl could be married off at the age of 18 years? Is it because the drafting committee includes majority of men or they have sought it as a preventive measure for a girl, whom the nation presumes couldn�t protect and fight for herself on her own and therefore needs to be looked after by a boy who must at least 3 years elder to her (as per law). I couldn�t find any justifying answer to this! For an excuse people connect it with biological facts but that too is only an excuse for me and doesn�t carry any logic.
I mean a person (includes everyone) who attains 18 years of age becomes suddenly wise enough to think about the political situation of the nation and is ready to vote but when it comes to marriage even if a person gives free consent once turn 18 years(major) though couldn�t enter into a marriage. So does it mean a girl is ready when she is 18 years and a boy has still wait to turn 21 years to enter into marriage??? But, why?? It�s like a girl could be married off at the age of 18 years but boy still needs 3 more years, I mean is it like he is wise enough to vote now but still needs 3 years to marry!! How does this make any sense!! Why it can�t be that the legal marriage age of a person should be same or say 21 years?
Now I got stuck when it is all about controlling the sexuality of a woman without considering her consent or pain. It is acceptable actually? This is an important thing to notice because when a girl is child her body is not fully developed either physically or mentally to experience or accept the sexual activity. Coming to the next big point is a girl child, who is below 18 years, now being forced (because a minor couldn�t give free consent) into marriage just to get rid of hefty amount of expenses the family has to bear on her, because girl is not any good for her own family (as per the society because a girl is so called �paraya dhan� from the birth itself). On one side where it is about girl being the burden and it�s better to marry her off to someone so that they have to pay low dowry another side is to marry the daughter off if it�s been heard that she is interacting to any guy of her age or even bit elder. Because now sexuality plays a bigger role in here, the girls are provided mobility and freedom to go to the school with a condition that they don�t get indulge with boys, if it was even heard that she is interacting with a boy it�s been presumed that such interaction could harm her sexuality.
And here now the time has come to lock her up inside the roomand restrict her mobility because if it is not done then the girl could be fooled by the boy resulting into hampering sexuality of a girl with is directly associated with the graph of Honour of the family. Once girl enters into any sexual activity out of her own choice and doesn�t took consent of her parents (mind that it�s still not her consent) before entering into the same, it becomes a issue of National Defamation of the family. At this stage when parents got to know about their daughter getting close to someone then even after talking to their daughter it is the duty of the parents (with protective approach) to inflict domestic violence including restriction on mobility, physical, mental and verbal abuse on the girl at to make her learn the so called Shishtachaar and make her remember her Lines and limitations being a GIRL.
In such situations she is unable to protest because she doesn�t know how to protest and believes that if she will protest she will be succumbed to death at the hands of her own family. Now just because she was happy interacting an opposite sex of her own choice or might be willing to spend her life with him, she would forcibly married off at the earliest no matter whether she wants it or not. In such marriage, to prove masculinity the groom without caring about the girl�s choice and comfort forces himself over her. If she tries to even resist then she would be beaten either for not doing it right or because they have paid for her or because she is now the WIFE. Finding no solution as she has been discarded by her family just because she interacted with a guy from peer group, resulting into marrying her off to someone older to her the girls starts accepting her situation as her FATE. Now because she was not allowed to even complete her studies, she can�t contribute in the society/economy which she could have if she has been allowed or given freedom to complete the same. She restricts herself to move out of the marital home or talk to any male because that was the reason to her present woes. She is scared enough to speak her heart out because if she does so, she would be thrown out by her husband and would be left more vulnerable to abuse in the society with no cure to it.
Now if we talk about pregnancy, the girl who got married against her choice at the tender age being enforced into sexual activity (which is more of an abuse) and gets pregnant. Presenting a child mother bearing a child, harming her health mentally and physically as her body is not completely developed. This also harms development of the healthy infant, because of undeveloped body of mother and lack of nutrition which is required at the time of pregnancy. In all such situation the result is death of the mother, death or deformity of the new born or damage of uterus etc of the mother.
This is nothing new before us everyone from every region knows about this truth but still are we trying to ignore the truth or not putting extra effort to eliminate child marriages so that a well educated healthy woman could contribute in the society, choose partner on her own, should get aware of her body, rights and freedom to take decision.
Author is Lucknow based Legal Activist.