Bringing down child marriage rate was one of the important achievements that the country had gained in social development indices. This accomplishment had gained international recognition. Actually child marriage is completely at variance with the progress of a civilised society and needs to be eradicated. But this achievement is very likely to be negated by the much talked-about Child Marriage Restraint Bill 2017 that the parliament passed on Monday. Seemingly this bill has taken a tough stand against child marriage but a loophole in it is very likely to encourage the same or make leeway for pro-child marriage coteries to promote their obscurantist programme.The protagonists of marriage of under aged boys and girls will take full advantage of this.
The Child Marriage Restraint Bill 2017 will replace the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 which had fixed 18 and 21 as the minimum age for marriage for girls and boys respectively. These are the lowest limit of age for marriage. It was expected that the new law would raise the limit but did not; it brought no change in the age limit. The new law is by no means a step forward from the previous one.
The new law has made marriage before reaching the age limit a punishable offence and has provisions for different penalties for the violators. These provisions sound very good and give the impression that they will discourage child marriage. But, sadly enough, the new law has a provision that allows child marriage in so called ‘special circumstances’ without mentioning any age limit whatsoever. In these special cases a girl of 16 or 14 may be married off legally. Though such marriages have been subjected to permission from competent authorities, misinterpretation and abuse of this provision is almost sure in an ambience of corruption and misuse of power. Different forces strongly opposed the provision allowing child marriage and asked for eliciting public opinion but to no avail. This provision, instead of deterring child marriage, will encourage it. We do not find any reason to accept this clause of the new law.