According to UNICEF’s ‘State of the World’s Children – 2009’ Report, 47% of India’s women were married before the legal age of 18, with 56% child marriages occurring in rural areas. The report also revealed another shocking fact: 40% of the world’s child marriages occur in India.
Efforts to bring about social reform against the practice of child- marriage were made, amongst others, by the Brahmo Samaj led by Raja Ram Mohan Roy and the Arya Samaj led by Swami Dayananda Saraswati. This, however, was not enough, and a piece of prohibitory legislation was thought to be the best solution.
Accordingly, the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 was passed to restrain the solemnization of child marriages. Although the Act was amended in 1949 and once again in 1978, its provisions were far from being deterrent. Moreover, the Act did not declare such marriages to be void or invalid or even voidable. There were growing demands to make the law more effective and to make the punishments there under more stringent so as to eradicate – or at least lessen – the socially despicable practice of child marriages in the country.
Ultimately, it was thought fit to pass a fresh piece of legislation on the subject and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act was passed in 2006. This Act repeals the earlier Act of 1929, and applies to the whole of India, except the State of Jammu and Kashmir. It also applies to all citizens of India who are outside India. The only exception that is made is in favour of the Renoncants of Pondicherry, to whom the Act does not apply.