Report No. 205
Main Features of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006
The new Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 (hereafter PCMA)brings about far reaching changes in the law as under:-
- Section 3 of this Act states that "child marriages shall be voidable at the option of the contracting party who was a child at the time of the marriage." It allows for a petition to be filed to declare the marriage void within 2 years of the child attaining majority. However, since a girl is supposed to attain majority at the age of 18 and a boy at the age of 21, the girl can file a petition till she becomes 20 years of age and a boy till he becomes 23 years of age.
- The Act also allows for maintenance and residence for the girl till her remarriage from the male contracting party or his parents.
- It further allows for appropriate orders for custody for any child born from the marriage.
- All the punishments for contracting a child marriage have been enhanced. The punishment for a male over 18 years of age has been enhanced to rigorous imprisonment of up to 2 years or with a fine upto 1 lakh rupees or both.
- A similar punishment is prescribed for anyone who performs, conducts, directs or abets any child marriage.
- The same punishment is also prescribed for anyone who solemnizes a child marriage including by promoting such a marriage, permitting it to be solemnized or negligently failing to prevent the marriage. No woman can however be punished with imprisonment. The Act also makes all offences cognizable and non-bailable.
- The Act further allows for injunctions to prohibit child marriages including ex parte interim injunctions. It states that any child marriage solemnized in contravention of an injunction order will be void.
The Act lays emphasis on the prohibition of child marriages by providing for the appointment of Child Marriage Prohibition Officers by the State Governments and gives powers to these Officers to prevent and prosecute solemnization of child marriages and to create awareness on the issue. However without the required financial allocations these Officers will probably not get appointed. The Act gives the District Magistrate powers to stop and prevent solemnization of mass child marriages by employing appropriate measures and minimum police force apart from giving him all the powers of the Child Marriage Prohibition Officer.
In view of the provisions of PCMA we have to examine whether any further amendments to the law of child marriage are necessary. The present law while making child marriage voidable under a gender neutral provision has also given a male child the right to get out of a forced marriage. The law, however, does not make a marriage invalid whether it is performed when the child is an infant or later at puberty or adolescence. Under the 13criminal law, however, Section 375 IPC makes it a crime to have a sexual relationship with a child under 15 years of age.
A contradiction therefore remains between the PCMA and Section 375 IPC. It is relevant to mention that prior to the new Act a Parliamentary Standing Committee had examined the government Bill on the Prevention of Child Marriage and suggested that child marriages solemnized after the introduction of the new Act should be made void ab initio. The Standing Committee had pointed out that research had shown that a girl child "has to suffer irreparable losses due to biological factors and inability to sustain pressure of marriage at an early age."1. In the next chapter we therefore examine the scope, causes and consequences of child marriages.
1. Rajya Sabha Thirteenth Report on the Prevention of Child Marriage Bill, 2004, New Delhi, November 2005, Para 10.4.