A still from Indian serial 'Pehredar piya ki'

Before ‘Prohibition of child marriage act, 2006’, there was ‘child marriage restraint act, 1929’, which was enacted to prevent child marriages but it failed because there was no provision in it to declare a marriage void or voidable. It just had punishment for the people who were involved in child marriages.

Therefore, Prohibition of child marriage act, 2006, was enacted after forceful demand from the society and also from law commission. The act has an important provision to declare child marriage void at the instance of contracting party if after attaining majority either person applies the court to declare it void, also, a marriage is void ab initio if it is solemnized after abducting a child or in any kind of forceful condition.

But, to understand the act better, it is expedient to also know the backstory of this act. The ‘object and reasons’ of the act explains it well, so extracting the said paragraphs here-

Object and reasons

“The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 was enacted with a view to restraining solemnization of child marriages.

The Act was subsequently amended in 1949 and 1978 in order, inter alia, to raise the age limit of the male and female persons for the purpose of marriage. The Act, though restrains solemnization of child marriages yet it does not declare them to be void or invalid. The solemnization of child marriages is punishable under the Act.

2. There has been a growing demand for making the provisions of Act more effective and the punishment thereunder more stringent so as to eradicate or effectively prevent the evil practice of solemnization of child marriages in the country. This will enhance the health of children and the status of women.

The National Commission for women in its Annual Report for the year 1995-96 recommended that the Government should appoint Child Marriage Prevention Officers immediately. It further recommend that

(i) the punishment provided under the Act should be made more stringent;

(ii) marriages performed in contravention of the Act should be made void; and

(iii) the offences under the Act should be made cognizable.

3. The National Human Rights Commission undertook a comprehensive review of the existing Act and made recommendations for comprehensive amendments therein vide its Annual Report 2001-2002. The Central Government, after consulting the State Governments and Union Territory Administrations on the recommendations of the National Commission for Women and the National Human Rights Commission, had decided to accept almost all the recommendations and give effect to them by repealing and re-enacting the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929.”