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Committee on the Rights of the Child Holds India Accountable for Failing to Eliminate Child Marriage and Ensure Access to Reproductive Health Services and Autonomy for Girls

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (Committee) recently criticized India for a wide range of human rights violations, resulting from the persistence of child marriage and girls’ lack of access to contraceptive information and services and autonomy.

During its 66th session in May and June, the Committee reviewed India’s compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and issued Concluding Observations urging the government to address its discriminatory religion-based personal laws and protect women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive rights.

Child Marriage

The Committee expressed concern about the high prevalence of child marriage, despite the enactment of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) in 2006. The Committee specifically referred to the following as the main barriers to the full implementation of the PCMA: 

  • The prevalence of social norms and traditions over the law;
  • the existence of different personal laws establishing different minimum ages of marriage in different religious communities, and
  • the lack of awareness about the PCMA by enforcement officers. 

To combat these barriers, the Committee recommended that the government “ensure the effective implementation of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act … including by clarifying that the PCMA supersede the different religious-based Personal Status Laws.”  

The Center’s new fact sheet on Child Marriage and Personal Laws in South Asia further details how religion-based personal status laws are among the greatest barriers to ending the practice of child marriage in India.

The Committee recommended that the state also conduct “awareness-raising programmes and campaigns with a view to changing attitudes, as well as counselling and reproductive education, to prevent and combat child marriages.”

Access to reproductive health services and greater autonomy for adolescents

While the Committee acknowledged the government’s adoption of a strategy on adolescent reproductive and sexual health, it expressed concern around the lack of information with respect to the strategy’s implementation and its demonstrated impact on the health and life of adolescents across the country. The Committee also expressed concern around the lack of access to reproductive health information and services, including modern contraceptives and the consequent rate of teenage pregnancies and unsafe abortions.

The Committee recommended that the government “[t]ake measures to ensure that adolescent girls and boys have effective access to confidential sexual and reproductive health information and services such as modern contraception as well as girls’ access to legal abortions in practice.” Among these measures should be the inclusion of a sexual and reproductive health education as a mandatory school curriculum, “with special attention on preventing early pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections…”

The Committee further recommended that the state “guarantee that the views of pregnant teenagers are always heard and respected in abortion decisions.”

Sexual abuse and marital rape

The Committee noted the non-criminalization of sexual abuse if committed against married girls over the age of 15, and recommended that “all forms of sexual abuse of girls under 18 years of age, including marital rape, are fully criminalized.”

The Committee further recommended awareness-raising and education programs, mechanisms to ensure mandatory reporting of sexual abuse, and necessary measures to counter reports of “widespread violence, abuse, including sexual abuse, and neglect of children in the State part.”

We urge the government of India to take these recommendations seriously and more effectively implement policies that will vastly improve the lives and health of girls.

The full Concluding Observations from the Committee can be found here.