A closer look at marital laws in India

Kristen Altmeyer

[media-credit id=2238 align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]The term child-bride is rarely used in America, however it is a different case in India.

According to Global Citizen, an organization striving to end poverty by 2030, India is ranked 10th in the world for child marriage. Forty-seven percent of girls are married by the time they are 18, according to a study by the campaigning organization Girls Not Brides.

In 2017, India passed a new law stating that sex with a child bride is rape. Before this was passed, men could have sex with an underaged female and get in no legal trouble at all. The marriage was the loophole. India’s age of consent is the same as America, 18. But, the age of consent is lowered to 15, if married. Females under 18 are now able to report their husbands for rape, but it has to be within a year of the incident.

The ruling stated that the clause is “discriminatory, capricious and arbitrary” and “violates the bodily integrity of the girl child.”

For senior health science major Radha Varma, her family history is similar.

“My grandma got married when she was 9 and had her first kid at the age of 13,” recalled Varma. “Back in the day, the culture was to produce more children in order to grow the family and keep the name. [This year] has quickly proven that women are getting their voices heard, not just in the U.S., but all over the world. It’s reassuring.”

Varma feels it’s hard to believe how young these girls are and the pressure they feel. Child marriage is socially acceptable in areas of India. It is believed that marrying daughters off at a young age shields them from unwelcome sexual advantages and consolidates families status in a community, according to the New York Times.

“Being so young, these girls aren’t aware of the situation they’re being thrown into,” Varma said.

Varma’s parents were both born and raised in India. She travels there frequently to visit family and see her parents’ homeland.

Citizens feared this law was only good on paper. Skeptics feared the penalties to perpetrators would be too difficult to execute in India because of the high number of child marriages. Unicef’s data proved positive. The stats showed that a girl’s risk of marrying before her 18th birthday fell by more of a third in the last decade, all thanks to India.

Citizens of India receive mixed messages from those in government. Lawmakers are not all anti-child marriage. There are some lawmakers who attend the ceremonies and bless the couples.

Although these strides are in the right direction, some child marriages go unreported. The police’s surveillance pushes some couples to make their marriage underground and untraceable. Parents of the bride are also the problem. If a marriage gets caught by officials, parents often times will take their children to another place and marry them off.

“Regardless of culture and customs, if you are pursuing to have any sexual interaction with an underaged female, who doesn’t know how to handle and defend herself, a marriage license should not be your excuse,” Varma said. “A husband cannot do whatever he wants with the woman.”