The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) defines child marriage as marriage in which either the girl or the boy is underage, i.e., the girl is under 18 years of age or the boy is younger than 21 years.
The Prohibition of Child Marriages Act was introduced in 2006 to address the weaknesses inherent in the former legislations. It came into effect from 1 November 2007, replacing the Child Marriage Restraint Act (CMRA) of 1929 or Sharda Act. This law was amended in 1978, wherein the legal age of marriage of girls was raised from 15 to 18 years and of boys from 18 to 21 years. The amended law was known as the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929.
Who Are Legally Punishable
1. Can the groom be punished under this Act?
If the boy is over 18 years of age at the time of marriage, he will be treated as an offender and can be punished.
2. Can parents of children being married be punished?
The guardians or parents of the child, including any member of any organisation or association that associates with child marriage or is negligent about preventing it can be punished.
3. Is performing or participating in early marriage punishable?
Those performing, participating or abetting child marriage can be prosecuted. A woman, however, cannot be imprisoned under this Act.
4. What is the quantum of punishment under PCMA Act?
Under PCMA, offenders can be punished for up to two years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh for violations.
How to annul an early marriage
- Can a child married off early nullify the marriage?
He/she can petition the court to declare the marriage null and void, within two years of reaching the legal age of consent – the girl can file a petition till she becomes 20 years of age and a boy till he turns 23 years of age.
Does the girl/boy have to file the petition in person?
The petition to nullify the marriage can be made in court only by the girl or boy, who was a child at the time of marriage. However, a guardian or a friend along with the Child Marriage Prohibition Officer can file the annulment petition on behalf of the child, if they are is still minor.
Are there any other circumstances in which child marriage can be annulled?
Trafficking, enticement of the child away from the guardian and use of force or deceit are also valid legal grounds for nullifying marriage.
Are there provisions for maintenance of the girl child post annulment?
The court can order for the girl to be provided a safe home to reside in and an amount in lieu of maintenance from the time of the annulment of marriage till her remarriage.
Does a child born out of an an early marriage have legal rights?
A child born out of a child marriage- annulled or not – is considered legitimate and granted all the due rights.
Who Can Be Approached to Protect or File Complaints
Who Are Child Marriage Prohibition Officers (CMPOs)?
CMPOs are officers responsible for implementation of the Act. They are appointed by the state government and can be invested ‘with such powers of a police officer’. The District Magistrate (DM) can also be given additional powers to stop or prevent solemnisation of child marriages.
Are there any prohibition officers at the village/block level?
A local Panchayat member or an NGO worker recognised and accessible to the community can be appointed by the state government to assist the CMPO.
What can the Prohibition Officer do?
- Prevention of child marriages
- Collecting evidence for prosecution
- Creating awareness about the issue and the Act
- Counseling and advising individuals against early marriage
- Sensitizing the community
- Maintaining and distributing statistics
Government Schemes To Dissuade Early Marriage
Mukhyamantri Laxmi Laadli Yojna (Applicable in Bihar and Jharkhand)
Available under conditions that the beneficiary family has only two children; the girl should not get married before she turns 18 or suffer a break in studies till she passes out of school.
- Under the scheme, the state government deposits Rs.6,000 every year in a post office saving account in the name of a newly born girl child till she reaches the age of five.
- When she is promoted to Class 6, a one-time payment of Rs.2,000 is made to the family; in Class 9, she receives Rs.4,000 and in Class 11, Rs.7,500 is offered for the girl child. A stipend of Rs.200/month is offered once the girl is in Std. 12.
- The government also provides Rs.60,000 to the family at the time of her marriage.
- Upon the maturity of the scheme when the girl turns 21, she is entitled to Rs.1.08 lakhs
Mukhyamantri Kanyadaan Yojana (Applicable in Jharkhand)
- Tribal families below poverty line can avail governmental support for the marriage of their daughter after she crosses the legal age of marriage.
- The scheme offers a grant of Rs.10,000 towards household utensils for the couple.
Mukhyamantri Kanya Vivah Yojana (Applicable in Bihar)
- The state government issues a bond of Rs.2,000 at the birth of the girl child.
- The bond matures when the girl turns 18 and can be encashed to meet the expenses of her wedding.