Concerned that it might end up making unintended commitments prompted India to decide against co-sponsoring a United Nations human rights council resolution on eliminating child, early and forced marriages.
India had supported the resolution at the council meeting in New York last week. But it stopped short of co-sponsoring the resolution that, human rights activists say, would have brought New Delhi’s poor implementation of the relevant laws under international glare.
India’s prohibition of child marriage act prescribes jail for anyone – including parents – for allowing child marriage. In a country where every second bride is a child, just about 400 people were arrested under this law in 2012.
The UNHRC resolution while recognising child, early and forced marriage as a human rights violation calls for its elimination and the need to include it in the post-2015 development agenda.
Government officials attributed New Delhi’s reluctance to the resolution’s reference to “early marriage”.
“We have laws against child marriage and forced marriage. But since early marriage has not been defined anywhere, there was no clarity on the legal implication of co-sponsoring the resolution against early marriage,” an official said.
Activists, however, don’t buy this explanation.
“India’s domestic law clearly defines a child as someone below 18 years. How does it matter if early marriage hasn’t been defined,” said Meenakshi Ganguly of Human Rights Watch, arguing that it could have been legislated in any case.
At 47%, while India has the 14th highest rate of child marriage in the world behind countries like Bangladesh (66%), Niger (75%), Chad (72%) and Mali (71%), it has the largest number of child brides – an estimated one-third of the global total.