9 October 2005


The All India Democratic Women’s Association takes strong exception to the recent judgment of the Delhi High Court that lays down a general principle that the marriage of a minor girl is justified on grounds that it was of her own volition. Historically, the Child Marriage Restraint Act came into being as a result of a long debate and struggle on the question of the age of consent. Child marriage continues to be one of the major reasons for continuing high rates of maternal and female mortality in India, and adversely affects women’s educational and social status. By advancing the argument that a girl above 15 years can be said to have reached the “age of discretion” and any wilful marriage by her would be considered “valid, enforceable and recognizable in courts of law”, the Court seeks to reopen an issue around which a consensus was built as part of the struggle for modern India.

As it stands, the law sets the age of marriage of a woman at 18 years, even though it does not invalidate such marriages and only prescribes minor punishments. Despite this, child marriage continues to be a wide-spread phenomenon in several parts of India. Such a judgment sends a wrong signal by condoning a violation of the law and could very well be used to legitimize child marriage.

As a progressive women’s organization, AIDWA certainly upholds the rights of young people to choose their own partners and recognizes that parents often deny them this right and force them into arranged marriages. The reality is that many women are being forced into marriages at an early age against their will, often at the expense of their education and health. Many adult young women are equally denied their democratic right to marry of their own choice, as is evident from the alarming number of ‘honour killings’in all parts of the country.

The AIDWA demands that the Government appeals against the judgment. We also demand that the Child Marriage Restraint Act be amended to prescribe a minimum age below which any child marriage will not be valid, and stronger punishments for contravention of the law.