India records over 27% in terms of child marriage, even though they are illegal. Poor economic conditions and age-old belief that girls should be married at young age are major reasons for rampant child marriage. But,a huge aspect of the failure to reduce child marriage lies in poor implementation of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act by government agencies.
The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act was implemented in 2007 and the Supreme Court of India has also criminalised sex with child brides in 2017. However, the number of child marriages have not reduced much.
As per a UNICEF report, 7% girls under the age of 15 and 27% girls under the age 18 were married in India during 2010-2017.
The National Family Health Survey 2016 points out that better health of infants is proportionate to age and number of years mother have been in schools.
Sunetra Kulkarni (name changed), 20 years old and mother of two kids from Khandvi village near Barshi in Solapur district does not feel that her parents did anything wrong by marrying her at the age of 16. She said, “My parents would work at the farm and I had to stay alone at home. They had stopped my education after 10th as to travel to Barshi for college was risky.”
Suresh Malvade, a farm labour from nomadic communities from Barsh said, “How much a farmer who is lower middle class can educate his children? And even after education, nobody gets jobs. Eventually they have to take care of families? The problems of marginalised communities are grave. By marrying off girls early we are securing their lives.”
Manisha Biraris, Child Protection Officer, Women and Child Development Commissionerate, said, “People don’t consider child marriages as crime and that is the major problem. So they don’t report child marriages. We could stop only 110 child marriages in 2018 across state as number of complaints were not more than 120.”
She added, “Our field workers along with police reach marriage spots as soon as they get to know. That is also risky.”
One of the WCD officials narrated an incident that when the family accused of marrying off child was asked to report police station. She said, “The young girl who was married off came after removing her bangles, vermilion and started crying that her parents have not married her off. How can we take action against parents in such incidents?”
However social activists say apart from social insecurities of families, a lack of sufficient staff is also the reason why the Child Marriage Act is not being implemented effectively.
Sushant Sonawane, a social worker who works for ARC that works for children, on January 13, rescued a 15-year-old girl who was married a year ago and has a one-month-old baby at Bhekrainagar Pune, said, “People know that child marriages are not allowed so they hold marriages at villages away from police stations. Besides, police and WCD are either not aware or lack enough staff to take action to stop marriages. Generally ASHA workers and gram panchayat members should keep eye on it but they hardly carry out their responsibilities.”