Team SoOLEGAL 15 Nov 2023


Child marriage, deeply ingrained in Indian society, perpetuates a cycle where females under 18 and males under 21 are wed, primarily prevalent in rural areas. Influenced by factors such as illiteracy, poverty, and ingrained social customs, this practice contributes to adverse health outcomes for young brides, amplifying gender inequality.

Evolution of Legislation

The historical backdrop reveals the British government's initial attempt with the Child Marriage Restraint Act in 1929. However, its ineffectiveness, marked by the absence of voiding marriages and mild penalties, prompted the enactment of the more robust Prohibition of Child Marriage Act in 2006. This legislation introduces stringent punishments, including imprisonment and fines, and renders child marriages voidable at the parties' discretion, with specific conditions for voidance.

Inconsistencies Across Personal Laws

Despite the advancements in the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, disparities persist across personal laws in India:

1. Hindu Marriage Act, 1956: Focused on penalizing parties, it overlooks penalties for parents or solemnizers. The ability for a girl to annul a marriage is contingent on being married before 15 and challenging it before turning 18.

2. Muslim Personal Law: Unregulated by codified law, it permits child marriages and offers the 'option of puberty' for annulment before turning 18 if unconsummated.

3. Indian Christian Marriage Act (ICMA): Requires a preliminary notice for minor marriages, after which the union can proceed without guardian consent.

4. Other Personal Laws: Disparate provisions exist, such as the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act deeming child marriages invalid, and uncodified Jewish law setting the marriageable age at puberty (12 years).

Judicial Trends and Legislative Revisions

Legal decisions on the supremacy of secular law versus personal laws remain varied. While some high courts, such as Delhi and Karnataka, uphold the dominance of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, the Gujarat High Court leans toward preserving personal laws. This inconsistency necessitates a decisive Supreme Court judgment to eliminate ambiguity.

Proposed Legislative Amendments

The recently introduced Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021 seeks to further address the issue. Notably, it aims to raise the minimum age for females to 21, aligning with the age for males. This legislative initiative acknowledges the need for evolution in combating child marriage, and its review by the Standing Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth, and Sports is a critical step towards its potential enactment.

Challenges and Recommendations

Implementation challenges persist despite existing legislation. NFHS-5 data indicates a high prevalence of underage marriages, and the detection rate remains low. The proposed amendments raise questions about potential disparities between the age of majority and marriage.

Recommendations from various committees and conventions, including the UNICEF and Parliamentary Standing Committee, emphasize the need for cultural acceptance. Striking a balance between legal reforms and societal support is crucial for effective prevention.


While legislation is a vital tool in combatting child marriage, it must work in tandem with societal awareness and support. The legal landscape, marked by advancements in the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act and proposed amendments, reflects a commitment to eradicating this deeply rooted issue. Achieving a comprehensive solution requires continual legislative evolution, bridging gaps in personal laws, and fostering societal change. The path forward involves not only legal reforms but also sustained efforts to transform societal attitudes, ultimately breaking the shackles of child marriage in India.

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