International child rights group, Child Rights and You (CRY) has suggested a logical way to curb child marriages in the country. The Group demanded that the age limit under the Right to Education Act (RTE) be extended to include all children below 18 years of age.
CRS’s Census 2011 analysis revealed that a whopping 45 million married people in 7 northern states – J&K, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh – tied the knot before they turned 18.
Notably, the appeal from CRY has come at time when the Centre justified in the Delhi High Court the reason why it doesn’t criminalise sexual acts between a man and a minor between 16 to 18 years of age even though child marriages are prohibited. The reason was cited as “social realities”.
What this means is that the Center is considering ‘Child Marriage’ is a social reality of India. By deciding to retain the age of 15 years under exception 2 of section 375 (rape) of the IPC, it has decreed that the husband and wife will be protected against criminalisation of sexual activity between them.
The state submitted was, “…Although the age of consent is eighteen years and child marriage is discouraged, marriage below the permissible age is avoidable but not void in law on account of social realities.”
According to Soha Moitra, Regional Director, CRY, Child marriage is widely practiced under the name of tradition, culture and protection. Even though there is more awareness about child marriages, it is still viewed as a social evil and not as a violation of child rights. It somehow escapes the attention of people that child marriage also denies access to education besides making young girls vulnerable to abuse and domestic violence.
CRY says that education can become the strongest weapon in the fight against child marriage. A simple analysis tells it all, at the primary school level; the average national dropout rate is 4.34% while the same figure for secondary level rockets to 18%. Since children in the age group of 14-18 years fall outside outside the purview of the RTE Act, they have a higher tendency to drop out of school making them more vulnerable to evils like child marriage, trafficking and child labour.
CRY’s analyses has further revealed that child marriage is more prevalent in girls almost 4 times that of boys. While 7% boys are victims of this practice, 30% girls are pushed into it while the national average stands at 19 %.
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