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Welfare schemes and "catchy slogans" are excellent for awareness campaigns but they must be backed by focused implementation programmes and remedial action for betterment of the girl child, the Supreme Court said today. In a historic verdict criminalising sex with a wife below the age of majority, the top court said though the government had realised the dangers of early marriages, it was "merely dishing out platitudes" and had not taken any concrete step to protect the girl child from marital rape. The observations assume significance as the government is vigorously driving several campaigns for the betterment of girl child. In the judgement, the two judges were highly critical that these programmes lacked focused implementation. Expressing concern over the prevelant practice of child marriage in the country, a bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said it is for the Centre and the states to take proactive steps to prevent child marriages so that young girls in India could aspire for a better and healthier life. "Welfare schemes and catchy slogans are excellent for awareness campaigns but they must be backed up by focused implementation programmes, other positive and remedial action so that the pendulum swings in favour of the girl child who can then look forward to a better future," Justice Lokur said in the 70-page verdict penned by him. "A reading of the National Policy and the National Plan of Action for Children reveals, quite astonishingly, that even though the Government of India realises the dangers of early marriages, it is merely dishing out platitudes and has not taken any concrete step to protect the girl child from marital rape, except enacting the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012," he said. Justice Gupta, writing a separate but concurring verdict, also touched the issue of child marriage and said it cannot be seriously doubted that it was an "abhorrent" and "reprehensible practice" violating human rights of a child. Justice Lokur referred to various reports, including that of the United Nations, relating to the magnitude of problems ordinarily encountered by a girl child who is married between 15 and 18 years. He said though the Centre criminalised child marriages in the country by enacting the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 (PCMA), no corresponding amendment was made in section 375 of the IPC to decriminalise marital rape of a girl child. "The National Plan of Action for Children recognises that the early marriage of girls is one of the factors for neo- natal deaths; early marriage poses various risks for the survival, health and development of young girls and to children born to them and, most unfortunately, it is also used as a means of trafficking," Justice Lokur said. The apex court also said that there was a plethora of material which clearly indicated that sexual intercourse with a girl child below the age of 18 was not at all advisable for her for several reasons, including physical and mental well- being and her social standing. "We can only express the hope that the Government of India and the State Governments intensively study and analyse these and other reports and take an informed decision on the effective implementation of the PCMA and actively prohibit child marriages which 'encourages' sexual intercourse with a girl child," it said. The court also observed that the Centre cannot be oblivious to the existence of the trauma faced by a girl child who is married between 15 and 18 years. "There is no question of a girl child giving express or implied consent for sexual intercourse.
The age of consent is statutorily and definitively fixed at 18 years and there is no law that provides for any specific deviation from this," it said. It also said that constitutionally, a female has got equal rights as a male and no statute should be interpreted or understood to derogate from this position. "Civil society can do just so much for preventing such child marriages but eventually it is for the Government of India and the state governments to take proactive steps to prevent child marriages so that young girls in our country can aspire to a better and healthier life. We hope the State realises and appreciates this," it said.
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