Af­ter SC or­der, time to halt all child mar­riages

Ex­cep­tion 2 to the rape law on sex with un­der­age women (Sec. 375 IPC) re­mained on the statue books for 67 years, and no one thought if fit to re­move it and bring it in line with the age of con­sent, that has been 18 for a while

The Asian Age - - Edit -

In a land­mark or­der ear­lier this week, the Supreme Court cracked the whip on child mar­riages, that are any­way il­le­gal in In­dia, by mak­ing the act of hav­ing sex with a child bride akin to rape, for which a hus­band is li­able to face strin­gent penal­ties. While this rul­ing will ap­ply only prospec­tively, yet it will af­fect thou­sands of child brides if they are still below 18, and cou­ples may have to live sep­a­rately un­til the bride at­tains the age of con­sent. A so­cial evil like child mar­riage, which may have been a tra­di­tion in In­dian so­ci­ety decades ago, still re­quired the na­tion’s high­est court to rule in a bid to get rid of it once and for all.

The ridicu­lously young age at which brides were given away ear­lier shows how our so­ci­ety was steeped in such ob­scu­ran­tist prac­tices. That it hasn’t stopped de­spite be­ing made an of­fence — the 2011 Cen­sus showed five mil­lion girls were mar­ried be­fore 18 — in­di­cates how far we must go as a so­ci­ety to recog­nise the ob­vi­ous threat posed to the health of the bride and her chil­dren. Some of the blame goes to a pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety, with dom­i­na­tion of the male so high that it nul­li­fies the progress women have made over the years. Cus­tom, poverty, family hon­our, re­li­gious sanc­tion and even down­right com­merce, as in the sale of brides to rich for­eign­ers, are among the rea­sons why child brides aren’t as rare as they should be in this age.

Ex­cep­tion 2 to the rape law on sex with un­der­age women (Sec­tion 375 IPC) re­mained on the statue books for 67 years, and no one thought if fit to re­move it and bring it in line with the age of con­sent, that has been 18 for a while. An em­bold­ened Supreme Court bench balked at noth­ing in its de­ter­mi­na­tion to sweep away the very ba­sis of this jug­glery of get­ting chil­dren mar­ried, usu­ally at the cost of their higher ed­u­ca­tion, by strik­ing at the very root of the clause that pro­tected grooms who had sex with un­der­age wives. Sadly, this isn’t the norm just in ru­ral ar­eas, as sta­tis­tics show a greater rise in ur­ban un­der­age mar­riages, leav­ing In­dia in the same league as sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa with high child mar­riages fig­ures.

Given so­cial in­hi­bi­tions, it is moot how many com­plaints of rape will be filed. While tak­ing child mar­riage head-on, the judges may have de­clined to look into the is­sue of mar­i­tal rape, but in tak­ing up this great so­cial re­form they have done sig­nal ser­vice to so­ci­ety. It’s up to ev­ery In­dian to ac­cept the neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions of child mar­riages and aban­don it com­pletely. A na­tion ca­pa­ble of pro­gres­sive think­ing should not fear tak­ing ac­tion that matches it.

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