Marriage of minor girls


On August 12, there is a news item in Times of India (Page 1,14) that a division bench of Delhi High Court  has held that violating the minimum marriageable age clause of the Hindu Marriage Act does not make the marriage itself null and void.

Interestingly, this creates a conflict of two principles of justice. The minimum age for marriage was originally fixed to discourage child marriages. Child marriage and early consummation of such marriages are detrimental to women’s education and health among other things. Later population control was the   additional  motivation for legal ban on early marriage.

 Requirement for minimum age  18 for the bride (and 21 for the groom) was often used by a girl’s parents to seek her custody and to punish her husband under kidnapping and rape charges. If minimum age is not applied, family and community heads marry off girls at a young age. If it is strictly applied, the choice and voice of the teens are denied. Family heads  see to it that they have  the girl’s custody or the state does. They then get time and opportunity  to pressurize  the girl to marry a man of their choice.

The court has upheld the validity of the marriage. A hundred years ago it was the sanctity of the marriage that was held up under the Age of Consent Bill.

The first recorded case on the issue of girl’s health and sexuality was perhaps that of Phulmani Dasi in the last decade of the 19th century. She was a ten year old girl, who was found dead in the morning after her considerably older husband had sex with her. This episode became the focal point of social reformer Behramjee Malbari’s campaign for raising the legal age of wives for consummation of marriage to twelve. The orthodox groups and individuals, including the radical nationalist leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak, vehemently criticized and opposed the proposed change. The educated orthodox, the revivalists and others carried out a campaign against the proposal.  Their main argument against the proposed law was that home and marriage were sacrosanct and the British Government should not be allowed to interfere in these matters. Despite wide protests, the British passed the new law, called the Age of Consent Bill, in 1896. Under this law, a husband could be held guilty of its violation and jailed. However, the marriage itself remained intact. In any case, no one is known to have been prosecuted under this law.

The present situation is more complicated than that and we need to relook at issues such as sexual attraction during adolescence, notions of morality, parental control and rights of youth to be in mixed groups, gender relations in romantic love and the extent of intervention by the state in such matters. 

By: Sonal Shukla and Pradnya Sawargaokar

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2 thoughts on “Marriage of minor girls

  1. Book Review by Ms. Sakshi Goyal, Rachna Amarnani and Guruvaishnavi*
    Girls and Girlhoods at Threshold of Youth and Gender-A Vacha Initiative,
    Editor: Vibhuti Patel, The Women Press, Delhi, pp/ xxv 480, Price: 1595.
    We are extremely thankful to the editors and the contributors of the book who have so beautifully brought out the different aspects of Girlhood. It is so nicely articulated in the foreword of the book that “Girlhood is seldom considered as an important phase in itself in India”.
    Chapter 1 on “The adolescent Girl in India” by Sonal Shukla and Pradnya Swargaonkar reflects why a girl always stays behind in comparison to a boy further leading to the disadvantaged position of the women in all institutes of national life. The chapter starts with a historical background of the adolescent girl in India showing her marked absence. I feel inclusion of the historical background at the beginning of the book makes the book so meaningful, as it is very important to know the history of the issue that we are trying to address. It emphasises on Phulmani Dasi case that resulted into a national level controversy in the pre-independence period regarding ‘age of consent’ and led to rasing of marriageable age of girls.
    Chapter 2 by Ms. Prabha Tirmare has emphasised the need to introspect factors responsible in upbringing of girl child to ascertain her identity and status in society. The chapter reinstates the fact that the work of girls is usually invisible because it is located in the domestic sphere. It makes a beautiful compilation of factors in the process of Socialization of girl child as 10 Fs (Formative Factors): Feudal Societies, Families and Shelter, Foods, Formal Educations, Fashion, Clothing and ornaments, Fairies and other tales, Folk songs, Festivals, Fun Games and Films.
    Chapter 3 by Ms. Cynthia Stephen talks about the commitment of the government to the girl child. It starts the chapter with an important outcome from the census showing that the girl children in India show a tendency to become endangered species. It shows girl child in macro level policy like Beijing Platform for Action (PFA), CEDAW, United Nations declaration on Rights of the Child, etc. It covers the constitutional provisions for girl child in Indian Legal framework.
    Further in Chapter 4 by Dr. Daksha Dave talks about Declining Sex Ratio in India. It shows the trends on declining sex ratio across census years and different states. The data is conclusive of the fact that Sex ratio in India is adverse to women.
    Chapter 5 titled “Education and Health of girl child in Urban India” by Prof. Dr. Vibhuti Patel reveals that in India, compared to their male counterparts, girls are statistically less in number, less educated, less healthy and are more vulnerable to neglect, exploitation and abuse.
    Chapter 6 by Dr. Dolly Sunny talks about one of the most formidable problem i.e. of Child labour in India. It defines and gives the interstate disparities of child labour in India. It categorises the reasons for child labour into demand side and supply side factors.
    Rekha K. Talmaki in Chapter 7 titled “Trafficking of Tribal Girl Child” defines Trafficking and brings fore an extremely distressing fact that the percentage and intensity of trafficking is quite high among tribal girls between the age group of 12 to 18. For the convenience and better understanding of readers it categorises intensity of trafficking in different stages.
    Prerana Sharma’s chapter 8,”Existance in Shadows: Women and Disability” highlights how disabled women and girls face more discrimination than disabled men and boys within the family in terms of health care, education, training, employment, income generation opportunities and exclusion from community activities.
    Krishna Chandra Pradhan (chapter 9) narrates conditions of female children in Orissa with special reference to Ganjam District. Dr. N. Indira Rani and Dr. N. Komali Salomi’s chapter 10, focuses on much neglected area of sibling abuse. It is based on a study of sibling interactions in family setting.

    In a chapter 11, on The Indian Girl Child: Trajectories of Social Construction Sunita Parmar in an algorithmic form presents the trajectories of socialization of the Indian girl child. She draws out a comparison on how the boys and the girls initiate into the adult social world but the initiation for the boys is enabling and for the girls is constricting. The girl inscribes a certain “acceptance code” of conduct. Marriage is a vocation for girls.

    Dr Pratima Shastri, in chapter 12, presents her analysis on how patriarchy encompasses the Indian society. She narrates the various aspects connected to patriarchy and its effects on women. For this, she has particularly spoken about Mrinal Pande’s ‘Girls’ to analyse Politics of Gender and the Familial Structure in the Story.

    In ‘Girl Child, Television Advertising and Status Quo: Gender in HDFC Standard Life Advertisements’ (Chapter 13) Dr. Mira K Desai states, it has been an ongoing practice of the advertisers to define women in relation to men where as men vis-à-vis majorly their work. Emphasis has been laid on son’s education and daughter wedding. I firmly agree with the author about representation of women as sex slave in most advertisement of hospitality industry and photographic goods industry.

    Congratulations are due to Mr.Amrit Gangar for his perceptive chapter 14, “Absence of an Age: Had it been a Durga Trilogy?” not just for picking on a subject like growing up of a girl child or adolescence, which he terms as bal-kishori, that is so clearly critical to a study of girl child yet agonizingly absent in most of the references in life. The route of films to establish this point comes across as a significantly different yet a hugely pleasant surprise to the reader. The narration is gripping to the end. Gangar kicks off by highlighting the fact that how Indian cinema has conveniently edited off this period from the girls life. He explains Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy – based on a male protagonist and his life throughout the three editions – and his desire to convert the same into Durga trilogy (a female pre-adolescent character and sister of Apu who dies in the first edition), thus making it a film based on a female protagonist.

    Chapters by Ms Shalini Mathur (15) and Dr Rohini Kashikar (17) Sudhakar have provided us with a case studies relating to ‘Adolescent girls’ in chapter number 15 and 17 respectively.

    Mukta’s awe inspiring work among child sex workers in the past 4 years has been captured in Chapter 16. The chapter 16, by Mukta describes the process adopted by the volunteers that empowered about 50 girls.Chapter no 18 by Parul Sheth is very interesting because it is about children’s activism through Balsena. It is surprising to know how children helped in doing research work about the situation of children in village.

    Dr.Ruby Ojha has talked about NGO intervention for empowerment of adolescent girl in chapter no 19. She has emphasized on participation of society, educationist and community leaders for upliftment of adolescent girl, government coordination with NGO, creation of new policies and programme for girls.

    In chapter 20, Advocate Vijay Hiremath has enlightened us with girl child law in chapter no 20. He has tried to critically analyze the laws relating to girl child. I was glad to read that after Article 14 and Article 15 which talks about right to equality, there was formulation of new Article 15(3) in which it allows the government to make special legislation and scheme for the upliftment of women in the country.

    The last Chapter no. 21 takes us through the National Symposium on Girls and Girlhood which was conducted on November 6-8, 2008 at SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai organized by VACHA and P.G department of Economics. This Chapter gives us a clear picture that how this Symposium was conducted.

    *Scholars at Post Graduate Studies and Research, SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai

  2. Girl Child
    Some one in the crowd of a hundred,
    there is a battered girl
    Someone in the crowd of a hundred
    is a widely relishing boy
    Even if you don’t believe this theory
    You are supposed to know,
    Every second of an hour
    A girl is battered sore.
    Some girls in crowd of hundred
    Are killed as soon as they are born
    No one cares for their future
    For their lives are only torn.
    You might not believe me surely
    You might as well be informed
    A boy is given more importance
    Than a girl when they are born.
    One girl in crowd of a hundred
    Is respected when she is at birth
    You don’t need to believe what I say
    But you must surely be shown
    How for a ninety nine girls
    The future of one boy is glown
    One girl in the crowd of a hundred
    Is not a victim of this injustice
    But all in the crowd of a hundred
    The honour of girls in all ways dismiss.
    By Lara Jesani

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