Child marriage usually refers to two separate social phenomena which are practiced in some societies. The first and more widespread practice is that of marrying a young child (generally defined as below the age of fifteen) to an adult. In practice this is almost always a young girl being married to a man.
The second practice is a form of arranged marriage in which the parents of two children from different families arrange a future marriage. In this practice, the individuals who become betrothed often do not meet one another until the wedding ceremony, which occurs when they are both of a marriageable age. Which age this is differs by local custom. In most practicing cultures, this age is at or after the onset of puberty.
Child marriage is prevalent in many cultures throughout human history, but has gradually diminished since some countries started to urbanize, changing the ways of life for the people of these countries. An increase in the advocation of human rights, whether as women’s rights or as children’s rights, has caused the traditions of child marriage to decrease greatly as it was considered unfair and dangerous for the children.
Today, child marriage is usually only practiced in third world countries, where cultural practices and traditions remain and have a strong impact on the people, and where the living standards and conditions still create a strong incentive for child marriage. For example, it is still common in rural parts of Pakistan.
Child marriages may have many purposes: The nobility of some cultures tend to use child marriage among different factions or states as a method to secure political ties between them. For example, the son or daughter of the royal family of a weaker power would sometimes be arranged to marry into the royal family of a stronger neighbouring power, thus preventing itself from being assimilated. In the lower classes, if they were fortunate, families could use child marriages as means to gain financial ties with wealthier people, ensuring their successions
In child betrothals, a child’s parents arrange a match with the parents of a child from another family (social standing, wealth and expected education all play a part), thus unilaterally determining the child’s future at a young age. It is thought by adherents that physical attraction is not a suitable foundation upon which to build a marriage and a family. A separate consideration is the age at which the wedding, as opposed to the engagement, takes place.
Families are able to cement political and/or financial ties by having their children inter-marry. The betrothal is considered a binding contract upon the families and the children. The breaking of a betrothal can have serious consequences both for the families and for the betroven individuals themselves.
Child-marriage is another ‘blessing’ of the medieval age and it was born from the same compulsions that perpetuated Sati.
Child-marriage was not prevalent in ancient India. The most popular form of marriage was Swayamvara where grooms assembled at the bride’ s house and the bride selected her spouse. Svayam-vara can be translated as self selection of one’ s husband, Svayam = self, Vara = husband. Instances of Swayamvara ceremony are found in our national epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Various types of marraiges were prevalant in ancient India Gandharva Vivaha (love marriage), Asura Viviha (marriage by abduction) etc., But among these Bal-Viviha is conspicuous in its absence.
There are many reasons to believe that this custom originated in the medieval ages. As mentioned earlier in the turbulent atmosphere of the medieval ages, law and order was not yet a universal phenomenon and arbitrary powers were concentrated in the hands of a hierarchy led by a despotic monarch. In India the Sultans of Delhi who held the place of the despotic monarch, came from a different type of culture. They were orthodox in their beliefs with a fanatical commitment to their religion and a ruthless method in its propagation. Intolerant as they were to all forms of worship other than their own, they also exercised contempt for members of other faiths.
Women as it is are at the receiving and during any war, arson, plunder, etc. During the reign of the Delhi Sultans these were the order of the day and the worst sufferers were Hindu women. During these dark days were spawned customs like child-marriage and selection of women from the rest of the society, wearing of the Ghungat (veil). This age also perpetuated customs like Sati and looking upon the birth of a female baby as an ill omen, even killing newly born baby girls by drowning them in a tub of milk. Amidst the feeling of insecurity, the presence of young unmarried girls was a potential invitation for disaster.
The predatory Sarasenic feudal lords and princelings of Sarasenic origins who stalked all over India in the middle ages were a source of constant threat . Hence parents would seek to get over with the responsibilities of their daughters by getting them married off before they reached the marriage age. The custom of child marriages with the ‘bride’ and ‘groom’ still in their cradles was a culmination of this tendency. This way the danger to a growing girl’s virginity was somewhat reduced.
Alongwith this principal reason, there were a few other reasons arising from the nature of the feudal society which were conducive for the prevalence of this practice. In a feudal society, qualities like rivalry, personal honour, hereditary friendship or enmity are rated very highly. Because of this, military alliances play a very important role in preserving or destroying the balance of power between the various kingdoms and fiefdoms. To ensure that the military alliances entered into were observed by both parties, practices like exchanging Juvenile members of the respective families who were educated and brought up at each other’s palaces were followed.
They were a sort of captives who were held to ensure that the military alliances between the two kingdoms or clans were honoured. But a more lasting bond that could back up military alliances were-matrimonial alliances between members of the two famlies . But such matrimonial alliances could be worked out smoothly only if the bride and groom were ready to accept each others Young men and women of marriageable age are bound to be choosy. This difficulty could be avoided when the marriage was between two children or babies where there was no question of their having any sense of choice as to who their partners in life should be.
The caste hierarchy also perhaps had its role to play in perpetuating such a system. Caste which is based on birth and heredity does not allow marriages between members of different castes . But as youngsters whose emotions and passions could be ruled by other considerations might violate this injunction. Out of the necessity to preserve itself, the hereditary caste system could have helped in nourishing the practice of child-marriage.
Among other subsidiary considerations which could have helped to preserve this custom might be the belief that adults (or adolescent) boys and girls would indulge in loose moral practices. This consideration would have – been more relevant in the context of the puritanical and orthodox environment of the bygone ages. The practice could also have been perpetuated, especially among- the economically weaker sections, by the consideration of keeping marriage expenses to a minimum. A child-marriage need not have been as grand an affair as adult marriages.
Child marriage has been illegal in India since the passing of the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929. In this Act, the term child refers to a male younger than twenty-one, or a female younger than eighteen. A marriage falls under the scope of this Act if either of the contracting parties meets its definition of child.
Every year children are still married illegally in India. Most of the child marriages in India take place in rural villages and areas, that usually have little legal supervision. Over time, child marriage has become a social taboo, with the majority of Indians believing it to be wrong. However, this still occurs.
According to “National Plan of Action for Children 2005”, (Published by Department of Women and Child Development of India) a goal has been setup to eliminate child marriage completely by 2010. This plan has proved to be successful, but it is still very difficult to monitor all children due to the sheer size of the Indian Subcontinent.