Much to the public's dismay, the parliament has passed the Child Marriage Restraint Act-2017 with a very significant proviso – special circumstances -- that allows a boy or a girl to get married before reaching the minimum age limit. This Bill, that has been passed, could very well turn back years of advocacy work that has been done to protect the rights of girls in this country. According to section 2 of the bill, any male who is yet to complete 21 years or any female who is yet to complete 18 years, will be considered underage for marriage. However, Section 19 of the proposed law states that if any marriage takes place in line with the directives of a court and consent of parents or guardians alongside specific process in context in the best interest of an underage female, such marriage will not be considered an offence.
So why exactly did the authorities turn a deaf ear to pleas and protests from different sections of society to not include the special provision? What rights groups fear, and we agree with them on this, that “special circumstances”, being ambiguous in definition lends itself to large-scale abuse. It will legalise child marriage rather than deter it. What is the compulsion of the government to insert a special provision? It defies rationale. The only conclusion that can be drawn from this act is that it is an act of appeasement meant to placate those who are virulently opposed to having a minimum marriageable age.