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Child Marriage, Drug Abuse And Unemployment In Manipur

Spring season is the most enchanting and serene of all seasons. Plants revitalize and bloom with colorful scented flowers. This season is where every weather elements are synchronized providing the finest time of marriage. Cosmic factors and other factors also favor marriage and this is the reason for the widespread incident of marriage in the State currently. The article is not going to dig on the determinants of marriage or child marriage per-se, but to address the Legal measures prohibiting child marriage and its relevance in the State. The country has gone a long way to empower women and child marriage law is one components addressing grievances of the welfare of women. Religious factor is the most important variable that our society is confronted with and which we see as repression of religion. What we feel appropriate and judicious has been made illegal, vice, immoral etc. by religion. We see no references prohibiting early marriage in religious text such as the Bible, Gita or the Quran. But on the contrary, it is religion that favors and support early marriage. In the first let us briefly scan the measures implemented in the form of law prohibiting child marriage in India.

In 1921, the problem of child marriage was first posed in British India by Lala Girdhari Lal asking the government whether it would undertake legislation prohibiting the marriage of a girl below the age of 11 years and of a boy below the age of 14 years. The government expressed the view that, due to backward social conditions in the country, initiative in the matter should come from the private individual rather than from the government. In February 1922, Rai Bahadur Bakshi Sohanlal moved a bill in the assembly to raise the age of consent in both marital and extra-marital cases to 14. But some states were against it and only two states Bombay and Uttar Pradesh hailed the proposition with enthusiasm. The matter was again taken up by Sir Hari Singh Gour in the assembly in 1924. The select committee to which the bill was referred allowed the age to be raised to 14 in extra-marital cases but reduced it to 13 for marital consummation. However the government did not allow the Bill prepared by the select committee to go through; instead it presented a Bill in September 1925, fixing 14 as the age in extra-marital cases and 13 in marital cases. The House was not however satisfied, and Sir Hari Singh Gour again pleaded in 1927 for the Bill thrown out in 1924. An age consent committee, popularly known as the Joshi Committee was thereupon appointed to go into the matter in detail. The Committee recommended that the age be raised to 15 in marital cases. Consummation before 15 was to be known as ‘marital misbehavior’ and the offender was to be punished. In extra-marital cases the age was to be raised to 18. In the case of sexual intercourse with a girl under 15, the offender was also to be punished with transportation or imprisonment for 10 years. To prevent premature consummation the Committee further recommended that the marriage of a girl under 14 should be prohibited and penalized. In pursuance of this the Child Marriage Restraint Act was passed in 1929. The Act considers a male under 18 and the female under 14 as a child. Whoever being a male above 18 years and below 22 years, contracts child marriage was made punishable. In the same case whoever performs, conducts or directs any child marriage was made punishable. However, the defect of this Act is that it did not make child marriage a cognizable offence and no action can be taken by the government for its breach unless a complaint was made within one year of the solemnization of the marriage. There were also other defects that the Act could not be successfully implemented. Trying to furnish the inherent lacuna, the Act was subsequently amended in 1938. The amended Act says “the Court may, if satisfied from information laid before it through a complaint or otherwise that child marriage in contravention of this Act has been arranged or is about to be solemnized, issue an injunction against any of the persons……prohibiting such marriage” after previously giving notice to such person to appear in person or by pleader and to show cause against the issue of the injunction. Whoever disobeys such injunction was made to be punished.

The Government not satisfied with the various measures concerning marriages of the Hindus appointed a Joint Selection Committee (JSC) to prepare a report so as to codify and amend the various laws into one single Act. Thus the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 was to serve this purpose. However, the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 which prescribed 18 and 15 years for boys and girls respectively, though passed in post-independence era, remain silent about the effect on the validity of the marriage and continues the earlier policy in cases of violation.

In 1978 the Government moved for the amendment of the Child Marriage Restraint Act (CMRA) of 1929. The Law Minister, Justice and Company affairs, Shri Shanti Bhushan, placed the Bill to amend the CMRA, 1929 and to make certain consequential amendments in the Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872 and the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. The CMRA, 1929, provided that a male who was under 18 years of age and a female under 14 years of age were not entitled to marry. After much deliberation in the Parliament, the Marriage Bill was finally passed. Subsequently the Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872, the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, and the CMRA 1929, were thus amended stipulating 21 and 18 years as marriageable age for male and female respectively. However, despite the law, child marriage continued to take place. To ensure that child marriage is eradicated from within the society, the Government of India again enacted the “Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006” replacing the earlier legislation of Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929. This legislation is armed with enabling provisions to prohibit child marriages, protect and provide relief to victims and enhance punishment for those who abet, promote or solemnize such marriages. The Act also calls for appointment of Child Marriage Prohibition Officers for implementing the Act.

In my opinion there seems to be an allowance of the law as regard to Manipur. Our society boasts of the egalitarian structure where male and female are treated equally, but unbelievably this is a fairy tale. Quantitative data supporting my argument may not be available but in qualitative assessment of the subject brought forward through observational technique, I emphatically put down that rampant cases of child marriage is practiced in Manipur. No protection officer or police are there to prevent solemnization of child marriage. Enquiries obtained during marriage ceremony (i.e. in the field) to confirm my doubt indeed yield the same since no concept of such were aware by the people I interviewed.  There are other issues the State is drilling through such as corruption, insurgency, HIV/AIDS and drug addiction, and therefore have totally turn deaf on incidents such as early marriage that jeopardize our women.

Issues and issues of importance that have not been addressed so far by the government are piling up consistently. Currently we came across our respectable Minister questioning in the Assembly about the status of youth in the State. Menace of drug addiction because of unemployment as every opposition party in the Assembly believed, to be the root cause of all social evils currently experienced, and has not been paid much attention deserves special attention. I want to connect the perception of people with regard to drug addiction, unemployment and marriage. Unemployment, early marriage, and drug abuse are all linked in a perfect network creating a system that treated our womenfolk of lacking substance in the contribution to societal growth and development. This treatment meted out further intensifies the scale of drug abuse and early marriage in the State. Let us see how these are connected and how it became the determinants of one another. Unemployment leads to drug addiction/peddling, and early marriage because of the intervening reasons of loneliness, frustration and the poor economy that left our youth with no choice (sounds ridiculous but no room of doubt shall be left). Early marriage on the other hand is the best advisable choice that is believed by our folks to keep busy the youth and refraining from use of drug and involving in black trade and business. And because of the practice of early marriage, education is curtailed (myth or practices of no education after marriage) which again led us to unemployment. Our rural folks are of the opinion that early marriage will solve drug abuse and the frustration of unemployment by sowing the element—‘responsibility’ and therefore would like to marry off their child as early as possible before they become the victim of drug abuse. They are oblivious of the effect of child marriage because no commands such as the religious book have taught them of its negative effect in this parochial society. Now we see that all these phenomena that define our society are operating in a vicious cycle constantly. Checking and reasoning one variable such as child marriage or drug abuse by coercive law cannot rectify without making references to other variables such as education or employment that is played in societies like ours. Argument and new ideas about the system created by these social elements and their relationship will keep on flowing perpetually, but here I am merely highlighting the subject so that better homework are done before we set our foot on the field armed with programs and policies.

*The article is written by RK Jeermison

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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