In September 2021, two rulings made by the Rajasthan state assembly and the Punjab and Haryana High Court, respectively, brought the issue of child marriage in India back to the forefront of everybodys minds. On September 18, the Rajasthan Compulsory Registration of Marriages (Amendment) Bill, 2021, was passed by the state assembly. The bill has a provision that requires child marriages to be registered within 30 days. On September 20, a division bench of the Punjab and Haryana HC ruled that a marriage with a minor girl would be legally valid if the child does not declare it void on turning 18.What makes both of these bits of news shocking? It is, of course, the fact that both seem to validate child marriage despite it being made illegal since 1929! While the Rajasthan bill subtly subverts the tenets of the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006 by providing a legal loophole, the Punjab and Haryana HC ruling does something worse: it puts the onus of declaring child marriage void on the girl, even though she might have been married off under pressure and without her consent at a younger age. Can a girl child who is socially restricted enough to be forced into child marriage below the age of 18 overcome the conditioning she has endured to take the step of voiding such a marriage?Another piece of news that adds to the child marriage crisis in India is the recent data released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), which suggests that cases of child marriage in the country rose by about 50 per cent in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. These questions generated by bits of news from a single month are just the tip of the iceberg where child marriage in India is concerned. The fact, as the United Nations points out, is that each year, at least 1.5 million girls under 18 get married in India, which makes it home to the largest number of child brides in the world accounting for a third of the global total.So, what is at the core of this problem which hinders the girl child so severely in India? Lets find out.Child Marriage in India: A Centuries-Old ProblemThe tradition of child marriage, as you may already know, can be traced back centuries in the Indian subcontinent and beyond. The idea at that time was to get girls married as soon as they hit puberty to ensure the birth of future generations, especially because life expectancy itself did not exceed the 40s for most of the population. But with modern healthcare systems, progress in medicine and treatments, the life expectancy of the Indian population is at 69.66 yearsmaking early and child marriage redundant. This technicality apart, the fact remains that no matter in which era we live in, child marriage always undermines the agency and wellbeing of the girl child.The critical thing to understand about India is that child marriage is a problem that plagues women irrespective of their religion or region. A study published in the Economic and Political Weekly in 2007 shows that when the Sharda Act (better known as the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929) was first proposed by Rao Sahib Haribilas Sharda in the Constituent Assembly, orthodox sections among both Hindus and Muslims were vehemently opposed to it because they saw it as an attack on their religious sentiments. Reformists like Sharda and women, especially those in organisations like All India Womens Conference, Womens Indian Association, and National Council of Women, all united to set the age of marriage and consent at 14this despite the fact that the women faced brutal opposition from orthodox segments of society. So, when the Sharda Act finally passed in 1929 and became a law, it became the first symbol of womens empowerment mobilised by womens voices in India.However, the mere passing of the Sharda Act did not change much, primarily because the law was not explained to the majority of the Indian population and our then rulers, the British, did not do anything to enforce it. The Sharda Act was amended in 1949, after independence, when the age of marriage for girls was set at 15 years. Another amendment in 1978 set the age of marriage for girls at 18 years and boys at 21 years. Currently, under the government of prime minister Narendra Modi, this age of marriage for girls has been recommended to be increased to 21, primarily citing health reasons. The debate still continues whether this age of marriage should be raised or not, but the fact remains that on the ground, and despite all the laws against child marriage, girls well below 18 are still married off each year.How Child Marriage Affects the Girl ChildIn case youre wondering how child marriage hinders the girl child from utilising her optimum potential, many organisations from across the world have collated data on this, including the United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF), the World Bank, the International Womens Health Coalition (IWHC), etc. Here are some of the key ways through which child marriage prematurely ends the girl childs childhood and pushes her to face disastrous short-term and long-term consequences: Child marriage severely limits the girl childs access to education. This in turn limits their economic opportunities, trapping them in a cycle of poverty and dependency. This also affects her childrens educational and economic opportunities, allowing this vicious cycle of poverty and lack of education to continue. Girls married at an early age are more likely to get pregnant during their teenage, which in turn can affect their health immensely. Because of power dynamics within such marriages and stigma, contraception and protection are rarely discussed, which opens up the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The IWHC suggests that girls under 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth, and have an increased risk of pregnancy-related injuries like obstetric fistula. Psychologically speaking, studies show that child marriage raises the risk of lack of self-esteem, body image issues and depression among adolescents. Research also suggests that girls who are married off during their teenage years are more likely to present with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. The International Council of Research on Women (ICRW) suggests that women who are married as adolescents and have limited education are at a 50 per cent increased risk of facing domestic abuse, violence and intimate partner abuse than women who marry later or are educated.Making A Change To End Child MarriageClearly, ending child marriage can not only benefit the girl child by letting her lead a full life with a chance for all her dreams and potentials to be realised, but can also help the entire nation. Eliminating this one practice can break the intergenerational cycle of poverty in the country, bolster the economy by utilising the populations labour pool properly, and also reduce the pressure on our public healthcare system. More recently, the Indian Parliament's Standing Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth and Sports for Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill 2021, which proposes to raise the minimum age of marriage for women from 18 to 21, is conducting in-depth research at the national level to further bolster the nation's fight against child marriage. But while these efforts are being made on the legal and policymaking field, there are things you can also do to eliminate child marriage at the grassroots level.Now, if youre wondering what you can do to make a change for the better and eliminate this practice, here are some suggestions: Keep girls in schools, and ensure they get an education. Enhance their access to high-quality education, whether its academic or vocational. Empower girls in your family and friend circles with information, skills and support networks. Provide support and incentives to girls and their families, especially at community and grassroot levels. Educate parents in your community about the evils of child marriage and the benefits of having a girl child instead of seeing her as a burden. Encourage lawmakers to create more laws and policies to end child marriage. Encourage local leaders and politicians to follow this lead. Report incidents of child marriage around you and take steps to stop it. Child marriage is illegal in the country and a punishable offence. Reporting such a crime is your duty as a citizen.