Ahead of the festival of Akshaya Tritiya & Eid that falls on April 22 this year, Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation (KSCF) held a national consultation on ‘Child marriage-free India’ along with other like-minded NGOs from across the country. Taking stock of this evil practice in the country, the organisations brainstormed and suggested certain stringent measures that could make elimination of child marriages from the Indian society a reality. The National Consultation holds much significance at this time of the year as a large number of child marriages are performed across the country on Akshaya Tritiya & post Eid.
The KSCF along with the NGOs unanimously agreed that while the country has enacted the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA), 2006, a lot still needs to be done to eradicate child marriages. While the PCMA penalises those who solemnise, promote or permit child marriages, the National Consultation appealed to the government to amend the present law and have stricter implementation of the same. With a resolve to make India “child marriage-free” by the year 2030, the organisations put forth a slew of measures. The recommendations with regard to law include: strict enforcement of the existing law, amendments in the law with stringent punishment, mandatory reporting, accountability of public servants when information is received about child marriage.
It was decided at the national consultation that an appeal should be made to the government and all political parties for the increase of the age limit of free education up to 18 years. Notably, on 16 October 2022, the KSCF had launched the world’s largest ever grass-roots campaign against child marriage. This national consultation is also a part of the strategy towards Child Marriage Free India campaign.
Besides this, other recommendations that came out of the resultant deliberation include Strengthening of Institutions as well as Knowledge and Capacity Building of functionaries. The stringent implementation of the PCMA, engaging religious leaders on the issue of child marriage so that they can persuade their respective communities not to solemnize marriage of their children, were other measures proposed at the consultation.
Further, a special Child Marriage Fund or ‘Bal Vivah Nishedh Kosh’ may be created for all girl students in Government and non-Government colleges which could provide them with a stipend of Rs. 500 per month to continue their education. A ‘Prime Minister Shagun Fund’ can also be created to gift all those girl students in Government schools a sum of Rs 11,000 who marry on attaining the permissible age of marriage.
The issue of child marriage should be included in the curriculum of schools and also the back cover page of each textbook should contain details of all the Helplines that a child may like to approach in situations of distress. Girls who are below the age of 18 years should be made aware and facilitated to make a complaint against sexual exploitation within marriage as it is an offence under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012. Incentivisation can be considered for law enforcement agencies to encourage and recognize their efforts and initiatives.
For the effective implementation of the law, it is important to strengthen the institutions through Child Marriage Prohibition Officers (CMPOs) in every district. Individuals and institutions who are working at district-levels for executing programmes and laws for children should be designated as CMPOs for immediate reach and action. These functionaries can be Anganwadi workers, Child Welfare Committees, Panchayati Raj Institution, teachers, and so on.
Girls, who do not wish to marry and want to pursue studies or other vocational skills, should have residential and financial support in place so that they can pursue what they wish for. There needs to be institutional or other support for the girls who may be 18 years or older but do not wish to marry. There should be support for them so that they do not succumb under parental or societal pressure to marry.
Knowledge and Capacity Building of functionaries about the PCMA, 2006 and its connection with other laws such as the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 needs to be prioritised.
Expressing concern over this serious social evil of Child Marriage, Managing Director of Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation, Rear Admiral, Rahul Kumar Shrawat, AVSM, Retd. said, “KSCF along with its associate voluntary organizations and activists across the country is working to stop this social evil by creating awareness among people against child marriage. Child marriage is a cruel attack on human freedom, dignity, social morality, equality and inclusiveness. We demand from the government and all political parties to promote education of children, especially girls, by increasing the age limit of free education to 18 years. We consider child marriage as a social evil and legal crime. We aim to reduce the child marriages from 23.3% to 10% by the year 2025 and to make India child marriage free by 2030.”
On October 16th, 2022, Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation (KSCF) had launched world’s largest ever grass-roots campaign against Child Marriage. The campaign has been the result of the clarion call given by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Shri Kailash Satyarthi to the nation to initiate collective action against the social evil of child marriage. The highlight of the launch of Child Marriage Free India campaign is the fact that the entire launch had been led by more than 76,377 grass-root women leaders across 7,588 villages representing 26 states of the country.