The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006
Enacted by the government of India on January 10, 2007, this Act seeks to prohibit the solemnisation of child marriages. The law – which defines a ‘child’ as a male below 21 years or a female below 18 years – prescribes a penalty for persons permitting, promoting or solemnising such marriages. It also penalises any adult male who marries a child.
seven-page Act has a total of 21 sections, including 'Child marriages to be
voidable at the option of contracting party being a child' (Section 3); 'Provision
for maintenance and residence to female contracting party to child marriage' (Section
4); 'Custody and maintenance of children of child marriages' (Section 5); 'Legitimacy
of children born of child marriages' (Section 6); 'Marriage of a minor child to
be void in certain circumstances' (Section 12); and 'Offences to be cognizable
and non-bailable' (Section 15).
Act extends to the whole of India.
What does the Act say about the prohibition of child marriages?
Section 3 of the Act states that every child marriage – whether solemnised before or after the commencement of this Act – shall be voidable as per the wish of the ‘contracting party’ who was a child at the time of marriage. This is provided that the contracting party files a petition for annulling the marriage in the district court. The petition should be filed before the child completes two years of attaining majority.
According to Section 12, the marriage of a minor child shall be null and void in cases where the child is “taken or enticed out of the keeping” of their lawful guardian; compelled to leave a place by force or deceit; sold for the purpose of marriage; or married to be sold or trafficked for immoral purposes.
What are the key offences penalised under the Act?
Section 9 of the Act prescribes punishments for all male adults (those above 18 years) who are contracting parties to a child marriage, which may be up to two years of imprisonment, a fine of up to Rs. 1 lakh, or both. In 2017, the state of Karnataka passed an amendment additionally putting a minimum limit to the imprisonment term of the offender. The amendment states that the imprisonment shall not be of less than a year.
The Act, in Section 10, also says that persons who are involved in the solemnisation of a child marriage – including “performing, conducting, directing, or even abetting” such an event – shall be punishable with imprisonment of up to two years as well as a fine of up to Rs. 1 lakh. This is unless such a person proves that they had reasons to believe that it was not a child marriage. A similar amendment to introduce a minimum limit as in the case of Section 9 was passed by Karnataka for the penalty under this section as well.
Section 11 of the Act prescribes punishment for a person who does any act to promote a child marriage, permits it to be solemnised, or fails to prevent it from being solemnised. This applies to any person having charge of the child – lawfully or unlawfully – as their parent, guardian or another person in any other capacity, including a member of an organisation or association of persons. It shall be presumed that any person in charge of the child contracting a marriage has negligently failed to prevent the marriage from being solemnised. While the penalty is the same as in the case of Sections 9 and 10, Section 11 also states that no woman shall be punishable with imprisonment (however Karnataka omitted this provision under its 2017 amendment).
Offences punishable under this Act shall be cognizable and non-bailable, notwithstanding anything contained in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 – as per Section 15.
What powers do district courts have under this Act?
The petition for annulling a child marriage may be filed in the district court. The district court may make an order directing both contracting parties and their parents or guardians to return the money, valuables, ornaments, and other gifts, received on occasion of the marriage, to the other party, their parents or guardians – as the case may be.
The district court may make an interim or final order directing the male contracting party to the child marriage, or his parent or guardian if he is a minor, to pay maintenance to the female party until her remarriage. The quantum of maintenance payable shall be determined by the district court keeping in mind the child’s needs, the lifestyle enjoyed by the child during her marriage, and the means of income of the paying party.
Under Section 4 of the Act, if the petitioner for annulment is female, the district court may also make a suitable order as to her residence until her remarriage. Section 5 says that the district court shall pass an appropriate order for the custody of a child borne of a child marriage. The district court shall have the power to add to, modify or revoke any order made under Sections 4 and 5.
Focus and Factoids by Aarushi Gupta.
Ministry of Law and Justice
Government of India, New Delhi
10 Jan, 2011