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Fight against child marriages in India
Throughout the world, marriage is celebrated as a happy event in adult life. But for children especially for girls who have marriage imposed upon them—the event marks a premature end to their childhood.

INTERESTINGLY, IN the era of Chandrayan, we repeatedly hear cases of child marriages. Child marriage is a stigma on the forehead of our society

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In a recent case, a widow and mother of six children married her 12-year-old daughter to a 35-year-old man in Channa Bakhar village of Jodhpur

The marriage took place clandestinely in the village last weekend in the presence of a few relatives and was kept hidden from other villagers. But when the news leaked, the village Panchayat and Sen Samaj declared the marriage illegal.

The villagers worked together to save the girl. The Balika Vadhu has purportedly gone into hiding even as her husband Gajendra Sen and his parents were running away.

Tradition of child marriage is believed to have originated in medieval age. There are numerous evidences to support that this tradition started in the medieval ages.

Medieval epoch was the Dark Age for the women, because during that time, customs like child-marriage and seclusion of women from the rest of the society, wearing of the ghungat (veil) were prevalent. This period also had customs like Sati and considered the birth of a female baby as an omen, and even killed newborn baby girls by drowning them in a tub of milk.

Presence of young unmarried girls at home was an invitation for disaster. At that time traits like competitiveness, individual honor, inherited relationships or enmity used to be rated very highly.

In this connection, matrimonial alliances between two families played very prominent role to turn them from foes into friends. Such matrimonial alliances could be worked out efficiently only if the bride and groom were ready to accept each others. But young men and women of marriageable age are bound to be selective.

And the easiest way to avoid that was to marry them at a very young age where there was no question of they having any sense of choice as to who should be their life partner.

Caste pecking order also had its role to play in perpetuating this system. Marriages between members of different castes was not allowed. Out of the necessity to preserve itself, the hereditary caste system could have helped in nourishing the practice of child-marriage.

But we should understand that reasons prevalent in medieval era are not relevant at present time. There is big difference between medieval and present age. Now we are living in 21st century.

The Child Marriage Restraint Act passed during British rule in 1929, specifies that a girl must be at least 18 old and a boy should be minimum 21 years old at the time of their marriage. Later on, some amendments were brought in said act.

New Child Marriage Restraint Act, 2006, makes child marriage voidable at the option of the contracting party who was a child at the time of marriage ie the child who has been married off has the option to go to the court of appropriate jurisdiction. However, under the new act, maintenance rights of girl is protected, ie if the boy declares marriage to be void, the girl has right to claim maintenance from her husband until she gets remarried. Further, under the new act the punishment for encouraging, facilitating or solemnising such marriages has been increased. Nonetheless the policy of not holding the women liable for solemnisation of such marriages was continued even under the new Act.

Child marriage is undoubtedly an evil. Laws are not enough to control it. Social awareness and shared responsibility from all section of society can minimise its occurrence to a great extent.

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