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Child Marriage Becomes Legal If Girl Does Not Petition To Declare It Void At 18 – Punjab & Haryana HC

The question that arises here is whether a girl who is married off as a child has the capacity and agency to declare her marriage null and void at 18, if she had to marry under pressure?

The question that arises here is whether a girl who is married off as a child has the capacity and agency to declare her marriage null and void at 18, if she had to marry under pressure?

Recently, a division bench of Punjab and the Haryana high court ruled that a girl who married below the age of 18 (child marriage in legal terms) can only seek separation through the mandate of a divorce if it is not legally declared null and void by her when becomes 18.

This statement leaves us with a plethora of questions and has escalated the concern for the future of the children of our nation.

The statement by the Punjab and Haryana HC says, in other words, that a child, married off in a child marriage, needs to know enough of her rights to move court at 18, to have it declared void. If she does not, then it becomes as binding on her as a legal marriage done after the age of majority, and can be dissolved only through a divorce, going through the entire list of formalities.

This ruling of the Haryana and the Punjab high court gives a new discourse to the social evil of child marriage.

How does a girl who had no agency suddenly act at 18?

Child marriage has a devastating impact on women.

The question that arises here is whether a girl who is married as a child has the capacity to declare her marriage null and void at 18, if she had to marry under pressure?

And how can we be blissfully ignorant of the fact that women in rural areas or even in urban areas, for that matter, do not have that agency to question the ‘sacred institution’ of marriage?

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Does a woman who attains the age of 18 without adequate education, possess the knowledge and chutzpah to come to a decision on her matrimonial bond and act on it? Well, many of us have our answers.

Do they really know of, or understand their rights?

Girls married early may already have become mothers, not to mention the trauma they face. Not only this but women (girls here, children, really!) are hit harder when they conceive just after a year of their marriage, and have to face terrible consequences on their health.

Without basic education and completely oblivious to their rights they become vulnerable to social diseases like domestic violence, sexual abuse, and physical assault. Women living near the border areas (since we’re talking of Punjab and Haryana here) are doubly hit. Since the border areas are more vulnerable to crimes like human trafficking and drug abuse, if the man is involved in such illegal activities, the woman also sinks with him.

The lives of young girls are uprooted from the soil of education regardless of their aspirations. A woman is deprived of her right to life and liberty and to live with dignity. Many parents fret about keeping their girl’s sexuality ‘untouched’, and therefore to preserve the ‘family honor’ they marry the girl off even before she attains the legal age of marriage, completely ignoring the trauma that the girl child has to bear.

Also considering the point that marriage not only comprises a woman but a man as well, we cannot ignore how young boys are married against their will either, when both parties are children. The bigger limitation is that nobody talks about their vulnerability since women are subjected to more atrocities. However, if we aim for a more equitable society, we can’t exclude them from our discussion.

Any and every statement by an authority like a court has an ostensible purpose to serve. Since it is open to innumerable interpretations, one must be very cautious of the results it may lead to. People in society may feel validated to serve their own vested interests, and this unfortunate statement by the Punjab & Haryana HC may encourage child marriages in India! 

Image source: YouTube

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About the Author

Vanshika Sharma

Vanshika studies English literature at the Lady Shri Ram College for women! She is from Jammu and Kashmir and has a very vivid and vibrant culture to exhibit. She is interested in the domains of read more...

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