DOWNFALL OF EARLY MARRIAGES IN INDIA
Prabhakar Pahepuri & Kavya S. Suvarna, III year of B.A.,LL.B. from Sinhgad Law College, Pune
Once again, the ‘age of marriage' for girls and women has become a matter of national concern. One of the earliest cases was of Rukhmabai in Mumbai in 1851, which is considered as one of the touchstones of defining Indian nationalism within religious and cultural boundaries. Hon’ble Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi in the recent speech on the occasion of 73rd Independence Day announced that soon there will be a decision made by the government regarding the age of marriage of women. Marriage is a socially and legally sanctioned union between a man and a woman, which is regulated by laws and regulations and comes into existence by performing certain rites and rituals of their concerning religion. Marriage is the beginning of a family. It is believed to be a spiritual, emotional and a physical union. The main purpose of Marriage is taking care of and providing the needs of the family.
At the age of being able to complete their education and finding a job that can make their life stable, establish their social status as well as satisfy their economic needs, a woman at the mere age of 18 is legally expected to be married. Marriage of a woman at such an early age is still a prevalent practice in India. In India marriages are protected under the ‘The Special Marriage Act, (1954)’, ‘The Hindu Marriage Act, (1955)’, ‘Hindu Succession Act (1956)’, ‘The Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act (1956)’, ‘The Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act (1956)’. Currently, the minimum age of marriage prescribed by the law is 21 years for men and 18 years for women. According to Islam, the marriage of a minor who has attained puberty is considered to be valid.
The changes made in the law were opposed by many leaders as they believed it to be an attack on the Indian customs and rituals that were followed by the people in the society for generations. Whereas, some leaders wished for the minimum age of marriage to be further changed so that the education of the girl child was not just because she was made to marry early. Marriage is a very sacred way of uniting two people who are matured and ready to accept one another. But at an early age, a girl child is not only immature but at times also unaware of what she is made to go through and is compelled to handle responsibilities that she is unaware about. More than often, girls are forced to fall into early marriages in India as they are discriminated against in the society because of their gender.
Child marriage in India has gruesome effects on the mind and body of the girl child. The body of a young girl is not fully developed. She is also vulnerable emotionally. Early marriage not only disturbs her mental health but at times she is left with physical pain as well. Also, her well-being is endangered.
A girl being less educated and not learnt enough to give herself a voice when married to a man much older than her is very likely to face violence by the spouse and also by the family members. The girl is already going through changes in the anatomy and is then forced to fulfil the demands of the spouse, his family and the society; she is forced to fulfil her marital obligations which leads to her facing traumatic stress and depression. Any marital relationship between a man and a girl between the age of 15 and 18 years shall be void and it will make any sexual intercourse as an offence defined as rape under POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses) Act, 2012. But the girl can seek justice against this only if she speaks out and files a complaint against her husband. A girl who gets pregnant at an early age is prone to higher risks of abortions or miscarriages which eventually hurt her overall health. Also, the child born to such young parents might face certain health-related problems. At times these parents prove to be incompetent when it comes to taking care of their child. PhulmoniDasi a 10 years old girl who was married to a 30 years old man named ‘Hari Mohan Maiti’ died due to brain haemorrhage resulting from forced sexual intercourse by her husband. She was a victim of Child Marriage and also Marital Rape. After PhulmoniDasi’s death, her husband Hari Mohan Maiti was convicted in 1890.2
There is a lack of understanding between the spouses who have been married at an early age. The level of understanding develops only when both of them are matured enough for understanding each other and their environment. When a girl is married at an early age, she usually finds it difficult to adjust to the new changes of their spouse and the family members which leads to conflicts and arguments. This leads to domestic violence on the girl by the spouse as well as her in-laws.
Most men who marry at a very young age are not financially well settled in life and thus, they face a lot of monetary problems in carrying out the responsibilities of the family. Also, getting married at an early age takes away the opportunity of the girl to complete her education which makes it difficult for her to find a suitable job and so even she proves to be inadequate to support her husband. These economic factors usually lead to an increase in dowry practices.
Marriage is a personal choice. It shouldn't matter what the minimum age permissible by the law is. The decision to get married, when and to whom; should be with the girl or the boy and not their parents, not the society. No one should be forced to carry out any action against his/her will or under someone’s pressure. This issue can be solved if the people in the society are literate, as only then will they realise the drawbacks of early marriage and how it is affecting the married couple as well as the family members. The Constitution of India has provided every citizen with the Right to Freedom under Article 19-22 and hence every one reserves the authority to practice these rights.
Although under Article 14 ‘Right to Equality’, and Article 21 ‘Right to live with Dignity’ of the Constitution of India, men and women are given equal rights, the difference in the minimum age requirement for marriage seems to violate these articles. Making changes in the minimum age requirement for marriage is a step towards the problem of gender discrimination that women in India have been facing for years. Changing the minimum age requirement for the marriage of a girl to 21 which is the same as that for a boy brings about the equality that every woman deserves under Article 14 of the Constitution of India. A society will be considered equal when every single person is treated equally. Every single instance of early marriage is a threat to the Right of Equality. This change will reduce the family pressure on the girl and also create a society where both male and female are treated equally unlike the current scenario.
Indian traditions have always considered that marriage is a sacred union between a man and a woman for a lifetime. Marriage is an important aspect in one’s life, it is what makes a person complete. It, therefore, should lead to a happy and prosperous life; and not that with trauma, difficulties and misery. Furthermore, one should step into this sacred union with proper consideration and thinking; not by the influence of parents, society or the law. When a person is stable, has financial security and the willingness to get married; that’s when he/she should consider getting married and not when someone asks them to. The problem of early marriage demands attention as well as promising actions. Every single case of early marriage raises the question of freedom and equality. And therefore, any revision in the act made by the Government in the legal age will pave a way for better, less-disruptive marriage.