The Rajya Sabha on Thursday passed the Prevention of Child Marriage Bill, 2004 by voice vote after the Minister for Women and Child Development Renuka Chowdhury pointed out that the girl child has become an “endangered species” and we are in a state akin to “emergency”.
Replying to a debate on the Bill, she said, “We must introspect into our own conscience on the atrocities committed on girls.”
She said in the last 20 years one crore girls had been killed. She lamented the fact that over 6 per cent of girls were married before 18 in states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
End of innocence
The Parliament also passed a bill empowering the Women and Child Development Ministry to constitute a Commission for Child Rights. The Commission for Protection of Child Rights (Amendment) Bill, 2006 that was earlier approved by the Lok Sabha was passed in the Rajya Sabha without discussion.
Replying to the debate on the Prevention of Child Marriage Bill, 2004, Ms Chowdhury said the government is soon going to come up with the “Palna” scheme to curb female infanticide which will urge people not to “kill the girl child” as government would take care of her.
Terming child marriage an obscenity, she said the purpose of the Bill was to prohibit such marriages.
Members speaking during the debate raised doubts over what could be achieved by just passing such a legislation. Some feared it might actually make the situation worse.
New legislation has more teeth
What are salient features of the new legislation on prevention of child marriage?
The new law allows a magistrate to declare child marriage void at the behest of the contracting party to the marriage, who is a child. The earlier law did not have this provision. The husband, or his guardian, will have to pay maintenance to the girl till her remarriage. The issue of custody and maintenance of children born of child marriage has also been covered in detail. The bill empowers the protection officers and the district courts to prevent the solemnisation of a child marriage. Any violation of the court's injunction order is punishable by imprisonment up to two years or a fine of up to Rs one lakh, or both.
How will this law be enforced?
The state governments will be required to appoint Child Marriage Prevention Officers (CMPO) either for the entire state or a specific area. These officers, deemed as public servants with duties similar to a police officer, will have power to prevent the solemnisation of a child marriage and later assist the victim in the court case. To prevent mass child marriages on days like Akshaya Trutiya, district magistrates can be notified as CMPOs. The power to nullify a child marriage on a petition from the contracting party will lie with the district court.
How effective will this law be?
Not enough, considering the past record of the state governments. Many state governments have not appointed protection officers under the Dowry Act and in the recently enacted Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. The speedy appointment of protection officers is vital for effective implementation of the proposed law. About 30 per cent of marriages in India are child marriages.
(FAQs compiled by Chetan Chauhan)