Mission 2029 has been initiated to rally the civil society against the complacency of the government on the increasing incidence of child marriage. Development should have a similar impact on all the citizens of the country. Child marriage deprives the girls and boys of opportunities to make decisions for themselves curtailing their scope for participation in the development process. The mission also demands more accountability for the state and the state functionaries to make child marriages a history in India and the world by 2029 – a full century after the enactment of the first child marriage law India – The Sharda Act, 1928.

Often good intended but toothless strategies of the government are no longer effective in making any dent in the problem as wide spread as child marriage. The ineffectiveness of the law is reflected by the sketchy outline provided for the role and power of the Child Marriage Prevention Officers (CMPO) – the key functionary responsible for the eradication of child marriage. The ill planned state wise distribution of CMPOs reflects the lack of planning and inadequacy of this key functionary to effectively carry out his/her responsibility of preventing and eradicating child marriage. For quick reflection, PCMA, Section 16, has a pivotal role for Child Marriage Prohibition Officer (CMPO). There are no guidelines or need based planning and their appointment is haphazard. The numbers of CMPOs in a State vary in the range of 1 CMPO per district in West Bengal (a high child marriage prevalence State) to above 1850 CMPO per district in Karnataka. Thus, in West Bengal, which is a high child marriage prevalence State, each CMPO has to cater around 4 Million (39,71,641) population while each CMPO in Karnataka is expected to cater to around 1000 (1091) population. With such differences the State is clearly violating Article 14 and denying equal protection of law, as mandated within the Constitution. (Annexure 1)

1) It is pertinent to mention that, Independent Though has approached the Hon’ble Supreme Court for seeking directions for effecting implementation of the provision concerning appointment of Child Marriage Prohibition Officer (CMPO) in a uniform and rationale manner with clear roles, responsibility and accountability mechanisms.

CACM is working in alignment with India’s commitment and towards achieving Global goals as set by the Sustainable Development Goals (https://sdgs.un.org/ ). Eradication of Child Marriage is an important target mentioned in 5.3 under the SDG 5. Gender Equality as an exploitative practice which curtails the development of children. It has been well established that the fate of a country is intricately linked with the state of its women and girls. The interlinkage of the SDG 5 (Gender Equality) with the other SDGs like eradication of poverty (SDG1), Good Health and Well-being (SDG 3), Quality Education (SDG4), Clean Water and Sanitation (SDG6), Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG8), Reduced Inequalities (SDG10) and Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG11) establishes the urgency required to end gender based discrimination. Sustainable development can become a reality only when the girls and women become an equal partner and an equal beneficiary of the democratic process.

Towards Sustainable Solutions

CACM is working since 2013 to strengthen the state accountability towards total elimination of Child Marriage in India through effective legal and institutional mechanisms. CACM believes that child marriage includes all forms of early and forced marriages. Law Reform and its effective implementation is a very critical part for ending child marriages. In order to understand the complexity and measure the nuances of this problem, we attempt to take a fresh look at the issue in hand. Throughout, we analyse CM from three entirely new lenses:
  • Human Rights Violation
  • Law and Order Crisis issue
  • Child Development Issue
  1. CM is clearly a Human Rights violation (inclusive of it being a grave Child Rights violation). It is undermining to see it solely as a social, economic or cultural norm. Victims of child marriage are denied all opportunities to learn, grow and discover themselves. Both male and female victims of child marriage lose out in their childhood. In fact, under the vote bank politics of the country where children are voiceless, India has adopted the appeasement approach by not taking a serious approach to this issue.
  2. CM is a clear law and order crisis of present times, thriving in India since ages and only increasing in numbers.
  3. CM is a child development issue and undermines the whole childhood of parties involved.

The following are non-negotiable elements in all cases of CM:
  • CM is a grave Human Rights violation and denial of all interrelated rights of child. irrespective of the reason and the circumstances accompanying it, Amongst other things, it leads to complete loss of childhood along with health, education and overall development of the child / children involved.
  • All CM are cases of forced marriages as the informed consent of children involved is never present and hence it is a clear Human Rights denial case.
  • CM is deep rooted in patriarchy, gender inequality and gender based discrimination along with larger issues of poverty, Gender Based Violence, Stereotypes, lack of access and opportunities to education, livelihood and security for girls, increasing sexual assault, and is directly linked to the economics of and ownership, dowries, bride prices and power of men to buy and control women/girls .
  • Child marriages in many cases are means of grave human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation.
  • All Child Marriages are harmful practices and leads to law and order issues in society and hence needs to be addressed accordingly

The need is for a widespread action on a campaign mode focusing on the following, among others:
  • Child marriage is a pure Rights violation of children, especially girl children.
  • The Right to free and compulsory education should be extended beyond 14 years to cover children upto 18 years of age in neighborhood schools.
  • The State has a clear role in ensuring a law and order situation by protecting children from being married off in the fear of insecurity of girls in a unprotected society.
  • Independent Thought (Secretariat)
Independent Thought is a National Human Rights organization working towards equity, justice and mutual respect. Independent Thought works on child rights law through direct Intervention and advocacy and provides technical and hand-holding support. As a human rights law organization we work towards legal reform and people centric policy formulations, through engagements with law students, lawyers, teachers, law schools and judicial intervention. Independent Thought initiated and has been anchoring CACM since its inception in 2013; post which there has been efforts to highlight the rights violation of girls and the need for their protection in multiple forums including judicial interventions. For details: www.ithought.in
Independent Thought vs. Union of India (W.P. Civil 382 of 2013)
Historic judgment by Supreme Court of India on 11 Oct 2017,declaring sexual intercourse with a wife who is below 18 years, as an offence of Rape".