As an Indian, I take immense pride in the fact that we are the oldest civilization that thrives till today. India finds its roots in the Indus Valley civilization that
thrived at banks of river Indus ( the eponym of the present country ) during the dawn of Bronze age. A matriarchal society then, the people of Indus valley civilization worshiped divine feminine. It is the same land but the times have changed a lot. Everyday we hear stories of crimes committed against women and such headlines do not seem to be disappearing anytime soon.
August 10th began the way any other day begins but soon changed for bad. It was a simple piece of article that had shaken me. A NGO had filed a petition challenging the exceptions to Section 375 ( rape ) of the Indian Penal Code ( part of Criminal Law (amendment) act of 2013 ) which seeks to reduce the age of consent from 18 to 15 for child brides. The idea behind such provision, centre told the Supreme court, could be a pragmatic approach taken by the parliament as child marriage is still in practice in some areas in the country. There exists a special provision for the state of Manipur which seeks to further reduce the age of consent in such cases from 15 to 13 ( IPC 375 (Manipur (b) ) ). What I find more hard to fathom is the use of the word ‘pragmatic’. Yes, Child marriage is indeed a cause for worry but is bending the laws that directly or indirectly support the marriage of a minor pragmatic? In cases like these pragmatism seems to be the synonym of ‘convenience’.
But this is not all. If a minor ( be it above or below 15 ) is assaulted and the child is unmarried then the accused is tried under the provisions of ‘Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act’ of 2012, more commonly known as POSCO. The question that now arises is , is marriage a certificate for physical and mental maturity? Isn’t the law contradicting its goal by itself? I shall leave it for more able brains to discuss but in my personal opinion, I believe that there shall not be any exceptions to cases in which children are stripped of their rights. After-all, what kind of nation are we building if our kids are becoming victims of society and yet they find themselves unable to take legal aids that are meant to protect their dignity and rights?
In the particular article, The NGO claimed that in India there are as many as 23 million child brides but there has hardly been 6 convictions under anti-child marriage act! This raises some serious question for the executive bodies. Since the practice is more prevalent in rural areas, local bodies and grass root administrative bodies have the fundamental obligation to play a bigger role in ending this practice and bringing more convictions in cases that are pending or are going to come in notice.
It is also imperative that Ministry of Women and Child welfare maintains close co-ordination with NGOs and communities working towards ending this practice. Health ministry must create awareness about the health implications that may arise due to sexual intercourse or early pregnancy which can endanger the lives of child-mother and the new born. Only close co-ordination among government bodies and intolerant vigilance can truly finish the practice.
While I do understand that the idea behind the provision of the exception was to allow the girl to lead a respectable social life with her new family but it is also the duty and moral obligation of the parliament to safeguard the rights and true well being of its citizen, even more so of a child. A pragmatic solution can never allow convenience of breaking the law and getting away with it.
UPDATE ( August 2017 ) :
In a great turn of events, the supreme court of India has struck down these exceptions. This strengthens, undoubtedly, the faith that the citizens of world’s largest democracy put into the August institution.