Sharda Act: Abolition of Child Marriage

The Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929, approved by the Imperial Legislative Council of India on September 28, 1929, set the marriage age for females at 14 years and boys at 18 years.

After India’s independence in 1949, it changed to 15 for females and 21 for boys. And again in 1978 to 18 for girls and 21 for boys. It commonly gets referred to as the Sharda Act. The Sharda Act is related to its supporter, Har Bilas Sarda and thus named after him.

On April 1, 1930, it went into force six months later, and it covered all of British India. It was the product of India’s social reform movement. The British Indian Government, which had most Indians, passed the Act despite significant resistance from the British authorities.

HISTORY OF SHARDA ACT

  • The Indian Penal Code, adopted in 1860, made any sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of ten a crime. The rape clause was modified in 1927 by the Age of Consent Bill 1927, which rendered marriages with girls under the age of 12 illegal.
  • The ordinance got opposed by orthodox nationalist leaders such as Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Madan Mohan Malaviya, who regarded the British intervention as an attack on Hindu culture. Child marriage was predominant in Indian society. As a result, the girl children were in pathetic circumstances.
  • Rao Sahib Haribilas Sarda proposed the Sharda Bill in the Legislative Assembly of the Government of India during 1928-1929 to prohibit the widespread practice of underage marriage in India.
  • The Sharda Act 1929, also known as THE CHILD MARRIAGE RESTRAINT ACT, 1929, was approved in the Imperial Legislative Council of India on September 28, 1929, under the viceroyalty of Lord Irwin. The Act got named after Harbilas Sarda, a judge and Arya Samaj member.
  • The Sharda Act went into effect on April 1, 1930. Sharda Act is related to prohibiting marriage for girls under the age of 14 and boys under 18. It covers the whole country of India, except the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and it also applies to all Indian people, regardless of caste or creed.
  • The Act got amended in 1978 with the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1978 to improve the efficacy of the current legislation. It increased the age restriction by three years for each generation which was 18 years for females and 21 years for boys.

EVOLUTION OF THE SHARDA ACT

  • The introduction of the Sharda Act 1929 was the first time in British India for Indian women to play an organised role against a social evil. It was the first time when Indian women played an active role in politics.
  • The groups that battled against child marriage included the All India Women’s Conference, the National Council of Women in India, and the Women’s India Association.
  • The purpose of this law was to prohibit or restraint of child marriage. The Act itself was short and sweet, with only 12 parts. The phrases ‘child,’ ‘child marriage,’ ‘contracting parties,’ and ‘minor’ were all defined.
  • Sharda Act deals with harsh punishments for males who married a kid under the age of 21, with varied penalties for those under 21 and those over 21.

    Anyone who was in charge of the solemnization of such a marriage was likewise subject to penalty. However, it’s notable that despite the Act’s goal, it did not declare child marriage unlawful as it was beyond the horizon of the Act.

  • The Act was a necessary step toward the social transformation and the abolition of child marriage. However, this legislation did not prove to be successful in eliminating the societal ill of child marriage.

    If we look at the numbers, it appears that it had little to no impact on child marriages number. The failure might get ascribed to the British government’s unwillingness to highlight the consequences of the law.

    To retain their peace with the country’s communal groupings, the British neglected to raise awareness and disseminate the ethos of this deed.

  • Because the Child Marriage Restraint Act merely prohibited the solemnization of marriage, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, the current legislation on child marriages, has three goals:
    • to prevent child marriages,
    • to protect children from such marriages,
    • and to prosecute violators.

    It further states that it is a cognizable and non-bailable offence. It also renders such solemnization null and invalid, unlike the statute of 1929.

  • If we go back over the last 90 years, we can see that we have not been able to remove the atrocity despite having laws prohibiting child marriages completely. Child marriages are more common in the socially, culturally, and economically disadvantaged parts of society.
  • However, we are still a long way from eliminating this evil from our Indian society, and to do so, all stakeholders must be made aware of the drawbacks.
  • India has the world’s most significant number of child brides, with 15,509,000. By 2030, we will have eliminated child, early, and forced marriages.

    More than 90 years have gone by, and we are still in a morbid condition of affairs. So, it appears to be a far-fetched aim. It’s critical to take proactive efforts to raise awareness about the dangers of this behaviour.

  • We may believe that patriarchy is at the foundation of the problem, but in reality, it originates from poverty and a lack of knowledge. The Act of 1929 was a stepping stone for India in adopting liberal feminism, and it is critical in maintaining the spirit with which it began to bring about tangible change.

PUNISHMENT FOR CHILD MARRIAGE

Punishment for male adults below twenty-one years of age marrying a child

Whoever forms a child marriage when over the age of eighteen and under twenty-one is punished by simple imprisonment for up to fifteen days, a fine of up to one thousand rupees, or both.

Punishment for male adults above twenty-one years of age marrying a child

If a male over the age of twenty-one contracts a child, marriage will be punished by simple imprisonment for up to three months and a fine.

Punishment for solemnising a child marriage

Whoever performs, conducts, or directs a child marriage is punishable by simple imprisonment for up to three months and a fine unless he proves he had reason to believe that the marriage was not a child marriage.

Punishment for parent or guardian concerned in a child marriage

When a minor enters into child marriage, anyone in charge of the minor, whether as a parent, guardian or in any other legal or illegal capacity, who:

  • promotes the marriage,
  • permits it to get solemnised, or
  • Negligently fails to prevent it from being solemnised shall get sentenced up to three months simple imprisonment and a fine as well.

Provided, however, that no woman shall get imprisoned.

For this section, it must be assumed, unless and until the contrary gets demonstrated, that when a minor contracts a child marriage, the person in charge of the minor has negligently failed to prevent the marriage from being solemnised.

LEGISLATIVE ACTS FOR ERADICATION OF SOCIAL EVIL AND PRACTICES

Abolition of Sati System

On December 4, 1829, the then-Governor-General Lord William Bentinck issued the Bengal Sati Regulation, which prohibited the practice of Sati in all jurisdictions of British India. Sati practice got characterised in the rule as repugnant to human sensibilities.

Female infanticide

It was another cruel practice in India throughout the nineteenth century. Family pride, the worry of not finding a good marriage for the female child, and the reluctance to bow before the future in-laws are primary reasons behind this practice. In Banaras, Kutch, Gujarat, Jaipur, and Jodhpur, certain Rajput clans had the tradition of murdering newborn females.

As a result, in 1795, 1802, and 1804, and then in 1870, the British passed laws prohibiting this practice. However, legal measures were not sufficient to abolish the practice entirely. Education and public opinion gradually phased out the cruel practice.

Dowry Prohibition Act

The Indian law known as the Dowry Prohibition Act was enacted on May 1, 1961, to prohibit the giving or receive of a dowry.

According to the Dowry Prohibition Act, dowry comprises property, goods, or money provided by either party to the marriage, by either party’s parents, or by anyone else in connection with the marriage. In India, the Dowry Prohibition Act extends to people of all faiths.

Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act

India’s Parliament passed the Protection of Women from Domestic Abuse Act of 2005 to protect women from domestic violence.

On October 26, 2006, the Indian government and the Ministry of Women and Child Development signed it.

For the first time in Indian law, the Act includes “domestic violence,” which is vast and has physical violence and other types of violence such as emotional/verbal, sexual, and economic abuse. It is civil legislation, not a criminal statute, intended to execute protection orders.

A BRIEF ON THE AGE OF CONSENT IN INDIA

  • The age of consent gets defined as the legal age at which a person can consent to sexual conduct. Due to immaturity of age and comprehension, minors get regarded as incapable of comprehending nature and the repercussions.

    As a result, sexual behaviour with or among minors under a certain age gets prohibited by law.

  • One similar instance in the nineteenth century led to the passage of the Age of Consent Act 1891 in then-British India. Phulmony Devi, a female juvenile, married a 35-year-old guy who was 10-12 years old. She died while her husband attempted to force their marriage to get consummated. This occurrence led to the passage of the Age of Consent Act in 1891.
  • According to the Indian Penal Code of 1860, the age of consent was initially set at ten years for girls. It increased to twelve in 1891, fourteen in 1925, sixteen in 1940, and eighteen in 2013. Sexual conduct with a girl under the required statutory minimum age constituted rape, regardless of the girl’s permission.
  • The Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929, also referred to as the Sarda Act set the marriage age at 14 for females and 18 for boys. In 1978, this was raised to 18 and 21 for females and boys, respectively. This law has now got abolished and replaced with the 2006 Prohibition of Child Marriage Act.
  • The age of consent is still valid in the modern day. This measure safeguards a minor from being cajoled into sexual behaviour by the older ones. The goal was to shield minorities from such abuse.

    In the workplace or society, older people who try to convince a youngster to engage in sexual behaviour can get charged with rape. If a complaint gets filed against such a person, he may be convicted of an offence since a youngster is deemed to be immature enough to provide legal permission.

  • The Indian government has adopted the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POSCO ACT) to protect minors from sexual harassment. This measure increases minors’ protection even further.
  • Because the Indian Penal Code does not recognise marital rape, the husband gets the right to consummate his marriage. The scenario changed in 2017; when the Supreme Court, in Independent Thought v. Union of India case, struck down the exemption to Section 375, allowing males to marry their brides between the ages of 15 and 18.
  • Nonetheless, it is said that Indian spouses do not have the right to agree. Even if she is lawfully married, she cannot have sex if she is under the age of 18. And if she is beyond the age of 18, she cannot say no since there is a presumption of marital consent.
  • If Indian legislators need help deciding how to codify marital rape as a crime in our laws, consider this advice from the Delhi High Court’s bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal aC Hari Shankar. “Marriage does not imply that the woman is always ready, eager, and consenting [to sex].” ‘The male will have to establish that she was a willing participant.” That’s all there is to it.

CASE STUDY INVOLVING SHARDA ACT

Anasuya

  • In a flash of extravagance, a shanty got lit up along a dark, narrow lane that ran between rows of hutments in Mogra village, Chhattisgarh.
  • Farmer Chhabilal Yadav, the bride’s father, anxiously waited for the groom’s party as wedding songs blared from the house. A fragile girl sat among the village ladies playing the dholak, dressed in glistening crimson.
  • Anasuya, the bride, was just 13 years old. There was a persistent knock on the door instead of the baarat’s drum beats. A mob of young ladies soon approached Yadav, who begged him to call off the wedding.
  • While he waved them off, the youngsters, who were members of Rajnandgaon District Collector Ganesh Shankar Mishra’s Kishori Balika Samuh, contacted the sub-divisional magistrate. The wedding of Anasuya got postponed.
  • Unfortunately, the situation is not the same in most Indian communities. Still, families, pandits, and village chiefs practice child marriage.

Shakuntala Verma

  • Shakuntala Verma, an Anganwadi supervisor in Dhar, Madhya Pradesh, was facing public fury for campaigning against child weddings in Bhangadh, a rural hamlet in the state’s west, at the same time Anasuya was being rescued.
  • A young guy came into Verma’s house on the eve of the auspicious Akshaya Tritiya on May 11, as boys and girls were dabbed with sandal and turmeric for the wedding ritual slit her wrists. “I was only assaulted because I was trying to prevent child weddings,” claims the 48-year-old social worker, who is recovering after a 16-hour operation.
  • Verma and the girls of the Kishori Balika Samuh are up against rural India’s ingrained norms and weak legislation.

Analysis

  • According to the Sharda Act, the legal age for marriage in India is 18 for females and 21 for boys. Yet, according to the 2001 Census, 6.4 million Indians under 18 are married, with states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Bihar leading the list of child weddings.
  • At the Kishori Balika Samuh, the teens who rescued Anasuya were initiated into the legality of child marriages and the roles and obligations of motherhood. In Rajnandgaon, over 1,300 such organisations are working in 1,592 villages. The collector is in close touch with the females, who also function as neighbourhood snoopers.
  • In Madhya Pradesh, Mother’s Committees have averted over 8,900 weddings, while officials in Rajasthan halted 700 child marriages on Akha Teej in May.
  • Sheetal Pawar, a girl from Kothrud in suburban Pune, told them that her studies got nearly cut short when her father planned to marry her off to “a lad from Solapur.” She informed them, “All I knew was that I didn’t want to get married.” Pawar summoned her strength and walked to a PCO to call Childline Pune. Local activists immediately rescued her.
  • Parents push their children, particularly girls, into early marriages for various reasons, including a lack of education, the excuse of tradition, and the perception of the girl child as a burden.
  • “Parents are concerned that girls would engage in sexual intercourse after puberty. Therefore it is preferable to marry them as soon as possible,” says Anuradha Sahastrabudhe, executive director of Dnyana Devi, a Pune-based NGO. “We’re pleading with parents to modify their ways.”
  • Meanwhile, Anasuya has returned to school, and Verma has stated that she will resume her campaign. Perhaps it’s a hint that kids will be able to enjoy their youth.

CONCLUSION

“Parents are afraid that females may engage in sexual intercourse beyond adolescence,” says Anuradha Sahastrabudhe, executive director of Dnyana Devi, a Pune-based NGO. “We’re appealing to parents to change their habits,” said the group.

Also, based on the preceding discussion, it may get inferred that the female child’s reproductive and sexual health suffers the most in early marriages. Obstetric problems, pregnancy-induced hypertension, increased death rates, and a high prevalence of miscarriages and stillbirths are common among child brides. Infant mortality rates are also high, as are preterm birth rates and low birth weight for newborns. The dangers of early marriage affect the female kid and the child born due to the marriage due to early pregnancy.

Legislation alone will not fulfil the goal unless it is supported and backed up by society. To some extent, a uniform civil code would also aid in the prevention of underage marriages.

FAQs

Who stopped child marriage in India?

Har Bilas Sarda (1867-1955) was an Indian academic, judge and politician. He is best known for having introduced the Child Marriage Restraint Act (1929).

Under which enactment a marriage of a child is void?

A marriage in which the girl is under the age of 18 or the guy is under the age of 21 is referred to as child marriage. The court can issue an injunction to prevent it from being solemnised, and if it gets solemnised after the injunction, the marriage will be deemed null and invalid.

Where is child marriage most common in India?

In India, five states account for more than half of all child brides: Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh. With 36 million child brides, Uttar Pradesh has the highest population.

Who is liable for child marriage under the Prohibition of the Child Marriage Act?

Contracting a child marriage as a male adult above the age of eighteen is punishable by two years of severe imprisonment, a fine of one lakh rupees, or both.

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