Child Marriages and the Law in India

Without consulting any of the NGOs currently campaigning against child marriages, the UPA government has clandestinely drafted ‘The Prevention of Child Marriage Bill 2004’ which repeals ‘The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929’. No doubt the Bill contains certain welcome provisions. The Bill provides for the intervention of courts to prevent child marriages through stay orders. It provides for the appointment of government officials as Child Marriage Prevention Officers. The consultation of NGOs, on the contrary, came to the conclusion that not only officials but also NGOs be authorized to carry out inspections and make complaints. The NGO consultation overall concluded, that a carrot and stick approach ought to be taken: a carrot for the poor who are often forced by poverty into marrying their children at a very tender age often to reduce the burden of dowry, and a stick for government officials who disobey the mandate of the law.Poor communities traditionally engaging in child marriages ought to be given incentives to avoid this practice and officials ought to be severely punished for allowing the practice to flourish. Neither of these two measures are found in the present Bill.