Child Marriage is defined as a marriage of a girl or a boy before the age of eighteen and refers to both formal marriages and informal unions in which children under the age of eighteen live with a partner as if married. Child Rights are human rights specifically adapted to the child because they take into account his fragility, specificities, and age-specific needs. Interestingly, however, the permeation and penetration of child marriage in society are concomitant with a gross violation of children’s rights in the same.
Although legislations in India to contain the escalating incidences of child marriage date back to 1914 (Sharda Act), a multiplicity of factors like penury, inequity in education, etc have allowed the stigma to stay and penetrate deeper into our socio-cultural fabric. Child marriage involves the most vulnerable of girls, who often live in poor, rural, or conflict- or disaster-affected areas with limited access to health care and education, and compounds their already heightened risk of reproductive health harm and sexual violence.
A woman or girl married as a child is exposed to a continuum of violations of her human rights, particularly due to the devastating impact of child marriage on her reproductive health and the increased risk of sexual violence within marriage. Married girls also face other forms of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse by their husbands and potentially others in their families. Sexual violence exposes married girls to severe sexual and reproductive health consequences, including early and unintended pregnancy, unsafe abortion, and a higher risk of STIs. Both sexual violence and the reproductive health consequences associated with child marriage, including early pregnancy, are associated with significant physical and emotional trauma. Each pregnancy and childbirth increase the financial burden on a married girl and her family, pushing her deeper into poverty. Girls married as children are often denied educational opportunities that would allow them to generate income and are isolated from society, creating significant barriers for them to transcend stereotypical gender norms of women and girls as wives and mothers. Child marriage results in a lifetime of economic dependence and poverty. This financial dependence, coupled with social stigma concerning divorce and significant legal barriers, means that married girls are often trapped within their marriage without a realistic way to leave. The daughters of women who were child brides are at greater risk of being married as girls themselves, perpetuating cycles of poverty and disempowerment.
CHILD MARRIAGE VIOLATES THE OBLIGATION TO ESTABLISH A MINIMUM AGE OF MARRIAGE OF 18
A child below the age of eighteen is neither physically nor emotionally mature nor capable enough to deal with marital issues. Under international human rights law, children do not have the capacity to provide legal consent to marriage, regardless of maturity, as it is considered detrimental to their health and overall well-being. The minimum age of marriage is established as 18 in recognition of the “important responsibilities” assumed in marriage and to ensure the attainment of “full maturity and capacity to act.”
CHILD MARRIAGE VIOLATES CHILDREN’S RIGHT TO REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH-RELATED INFORMATION, SERVICES, AND DECISION-MAKING
Adolescent girls face significant risks to their reproductive health within child marriage, particularly in contexts where children already encounter barriers to reproductive health decision-making arising from lack of reproductive health information and adolescent-friendly services. It has been observed that adolescent parents often experience depression and anxiety. It is an obligation upon the states to ensure that adolescents have the opportunity to participate in decisions affecting their health, to build life-skills, to acquire appropriate information, to receive counseling, and to negotiate the health-behavior choices they make.
CHILD MARRIAGE VIOLATES THE OBLIGATION TO PROTECT CHILDREN FROM VIOLENCE AND SEXUAL ABUSE
Child marriage is a form of violence against children. Officials at all levels of government are responsible for preventing violence against children. It is the duty of the state to take all appropriate legislative, administrative, educational, and social measures to protect the children from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse.
CHILD MARRIAGE CURTAILS RIGHTS of EDUCATION, WORK, AND ECONOMIC AUTONOMY
The interrelated rights to education, employment, and economic freedom are each enshrined in international human rights treaties. Girls who are married as children are often obligated to leave school and are marginalized from social activities. Child Marriage’s impact on girls’ health and ability to pursue education leads to restriction of their future economic autonomy.
CHILD MARRIAGE PROMOTES SLAVERY
Child marriage reflects the commoditization of women and girls, without regard to their rights as individuals, best interests, and legal capacity to provide consent to the marriage. Child marriage is synonymous with servile marriage which leads to domestic servitude and marital rape.
CHILD MARRIAGE VIOLATES RIGHT TO PRIVACY
The right to privacy specifically protects women’s rights to make decisions about their private lives free from arbitrary interference by the state. The persistence of child marriage in certain nations reflects the failure of state parties to ensure that discriminatory patriarchal norms do not result in women being deprived of their human rights either by modifying laws that permit child marriage or by enforcing laws.
CHILD MARRIAGE VIOLATES RIGHT TO LIFE
Child marriage violates the right to life by exposing women and girls to reproductive health risks, including early pregnancy, and violence. Every human being has an inherent right to life. The right to life is violated where adolescent girls experience preventable maternal mortality and morbidity, including from early pregnancy and from illegal and unsafe abortions.
CHILD MARRIAGE CONSTITUTES GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE
Child marriage is recognized under human rights law as form of gender-based violence. Freedom from gender-based violence is a human right. Child marriage exposes women to reproductive rights violations and marital rape, both of which are recognized as forms of gender-based violence.
CHILD MARRIAGE VIOLATES THE RIGHT TO HEALTH
Early pregnancy violates a girl’s right to health by putting her at risk of maternal mortality and morbidity and unsafe abortion. Girls and women who are married as children face significant coercion and violence within the family and from society relating to reproductive decision-making, including whether to have sex, use contraceptives, become pregnant, and continue a pregnancy.
CHILD MARRIAGE VIOLATES RIGHT TO EQUALITY AND NONDISCRIMINATION
International human rights treaties guarantee women’s and girls’ rights to equality and nondiscrimination. Child marriage violates women’s and girls’ right to equality and nondiscrimination by perpetuating patriarchal traditions, cultural attitudes, and stereotypes that place them in a subordinate role within family and society.
Marriage registration must be made compulsory, even if performed under religious law, as a means to ensure equality in marriage, prevent child marriage, and protect children’s rights.
CHILD MARRIAGE VIOLATES WOMEN’S RIGHT TO DETERMINE THE NUMBER, SPACING, AND TIMING OF THEIR CHILDREN
Child marriage operates as a means to control women’s and girls’ sexuality and reproductive capacity and results in significant risks of unwanted and forced pregnancies. Women have the right to make informed decisions about contraceptive measures, which requires access to contraceptive information and services as well as sexuality education.
A complete bequest of child rights to our children is only possible upon eradication of the malaise of child marriage.