Mahatma Gandhi Community Forum

Social Evil of Child Marriage and Mahatma Gandhi

Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Gandhian Scholar

Gandhi Research Foundation, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India

Contact No. – 09404955338



Social Evil of Child Marriage and Mahatma Gandhi


Child marriage is a common practice in many countries around the world; however it is especially prevalent in India, Where more than one third of all child brides live.  According to UNICEF, 47% of girls are married by 18 years of age, and 18% are married by 15 years of age.  These marriages are often performed without the consent of the girls involved in the marriage. Indian law has made child marriage illegal, but it is still widely practiced across the nation. The highest rates are seen particularly in the rural states of India. It affects both boys and girls, but statistics show that girls are far more likely to be forced into it. It is known as BAL Vivaha, is believed to have begun during the medieval ages of India. At this time, the political atmosphere was turbulent and ruled by Delhi Sultans. The sultans had an extreme commitment to their religion and forced many to convert, causing socio-cultural unrest, and Hindu women suffered the most. These days of the Delhi Sultans produced practices such as it and lowered the status of women even further. They invented the ill omen of giving birth to a female baby and believed that young unmarried girls caused disaster. It became a widespread cultural practice with various reasons to justify it, and many marriages were performed while the girl was still an infant.

Mahatma Gandhi described about this evil, “We shall not solve the problem of women’s education merely by educating girls. Victims of child marriage, thousands of girls vanish from view at the early age of twelve. They change into house-wives! Till this wicked custom has disappeared from among us, the husband will have to learn to be the wife’s teacher. A great many of our hopes lie in women being educated on matters mentioned above. It seems to me that unless women cease to be a mere means of pleasure or cooks to us and come to be our life-companions, equal partners in the battle of life, sharers in our joys and sorrows, all our efforts are doomed to failure.”1 Mahatma Gandhi described about this evil, “Merely to have outlined a scheme of education as above is not to have removed the bane of child-marriage from our society or to have conferred on our women an equality of rights. Let us now consider the case of our girls who disappear, so to say, from view after marriage. They are not likely to return to our schools. Conscious of the unspeakable and unthinkable sin of the child-marriage of their daughters, their mothers cannot think of educating them or of otherwise making their dry life a cheerful one. The man who marries a young girl does not do so out of any altruistic motives, but through sheer lust.”2

Caste system is also believed to have contributed to the growth of it. Castes, which are based on birth and heredity, do not allow two people to marry if they are from different castes. This system was threatened by young people's emotions and desires to marry outside their caste, so out of necessity; child marriage was created to ensure the caste system continued. Mahatma Gandhi described about this evil, “My view about remarriage is that it would be proper for a man or a woman not to marry again after the death of the partner. The basis of Hinduism is self-control. Of course, self-control is enjoined in every religion, but Hinduism has attached to it especial importance. In such a religion, remarriage can be only an exception. These views of mine notwithstanding, so long as the practice of child-marriage continues and so long as men are free to marry as often as they choose, we should not stop a girl, who has become a widow while yet a child, from remarrying if she so desires, but should respect her wishes. I would not, however, put it into the head of even a child widow to remarry, though, if she did marry again, I would not regard her action as sinful.”3

Mahatma Gandhi described about this evil, “An even more important reason than the two mentioned above is child-marriage and ill-matched unions. A girl of fifteen can never be fit for delivery. A child born of such a girl is deficient in vitality. Our children are so sickly that bringing them up becomes a veritable job indeed, with the result that many children die within a year of their birth. Along with child-marriage, we should hold ill-matched unions responsible for the deaths of a great many infants. It is not at all surprising that the children of men who marry when they are no longer fit for marriage do not survive.”4 Mahatma Gandhi described about this evil, “A friend, commenting on the article on “Renunciation Personified” One has written to me to the following effect: “You are against the marriage of girls under fifteen, but the Shastras enjoin us to get girls married before they attain puberty. Even those who are against child-marriage follow this injunction of the Shastras. How does one solve this dilemma?” I see no dilemma here. Anyone who claims or believes that whatever is found in the books known as the Shastras is true and that no departure from it is permissible will find himself in such dilemmas at every step. A given verse may be interpreted in many ways, and these meanings may even be mutually contradictory. Moreover, the Shastras lay down some principles which are immutable, while some others related to conditions at a particular time and place and applied only to those circumstances. If anyone could live in the Arctic region where the sun does not set for six months, at what time should he perform sandhya? What would he do about bathing, etc.? The Manusmriti lays down many rules about what should and what should not be eaten, not one of which is observed today. Nor were all the verses written by the same person or at the same time. Hence, anyone who lives in fear of God and does not wish to violate moral laws has no choice but to reject everything which seems to be immoral. Self-indulgence cannot possibly be dharma. Hinduism places no restrictions on a life of self-control. What about the girl who has come to feel aversion to worldly pleasures? What does attaining puberty signify? Why should we insist that a girl should necessarily be married immediately after or before she arrives at a state which is normal for women. One can well understand a restriction to the effect that a girl can marry only after she has arrived at this state. Quarrelling over the meaning of the Shastras, we should never perpetrate cruelties. A Shastra is what leads us towards moksha and dharma what teaches us self-restraint. Anyone who jumps into a well and drowns himself merely because it is his ancestral well is a misguided fool. Akha Bhagat1 described the Shastras as a dark well.

Jhaneshwar regarded even the Vedas as much too narrow in scope. Narasinh Mehta regarded experience alone as true knowledge. If we turn our eyes to the world, we can see that what this gentleman regards

as dharma is in truth adharma and should be completely rejected. It is because of this adharma that today we sacrifice innumerable young girls. History will condemn Hindu men for this custom. We need not, however, worry over what history will say. We ourselves are tasting the

bitter fruit of the custom of child-marriage. It cannot be denied that this custom is one main reason why many Hindu young men have no spirit in them, behave like cripples and are all fear. It should not be forgotten that children of parents who are not fully grown men and women cannot develop a strong physique, do what you will. Fortunately, all Hindus do not follow the rule mentioned by the gentleman and the race has not totally lost its physical vitality. If, however, it were literally followed in practice, Hindu society would have no men at all.”5

The Child Marriage Restraint Act, also called the Sarda Act, was a law to restrict the practice of it. It was enacted on April 1, 1930, extended across the whole nation, with the exceptions of the states of Jammu and Kashmir, and applied to every Indian citizen. Its goal was to eliminate the dangers placed on young girls who could not handle the stress of married life and avoid early deaths. This Act defined a male child as 21 years or younger, a female child as 18 years or younger, and a minor as a child of either sex 18 years or younger. The punishment for a male between 18 and 21 years marrying a child became imprisonment of up to 15 days, a fine of 1,000 rupees, or both. The punishment for a male above 21 years of age became imprisonment of up to three months and a possible fine. The punishment for anyone who performed or directed a child marriage ceremony became imprisonment of up to three months and a possible fine, unless he could prove the marriage he performed was not a child marriage. The punishment for a parent or guardian of a child taking place in the marriage became imprisonment of up to three months or a possible fine. It was amended in 1940 and 1978 to continue rising the ages of male and female children.  Mahatma Gandhi described about this evil, “Today even an appropriate atmosphere has been created in respect of evil customs like child-marriage, etc. Those who regard them as evil customs are lax only in regard to acting against them. If we today try to take an opinion poll, the majority will hold that customs like child-marriage and spending lavishly on marriages are evil and costly dresses of foreign material are reprehensible and evil. Majority opinion can be had against other such evil customs. Despite this, they have not disappeared because those who are oposed to them are truly speaking weak and, while they are brave in bragging, they are afraid to act. That cowardice will disappear only when a number of people refrain from attending such functions even by putting themselves to trouble.”6

Mahatma Gandhi described about this evil, “Mrs. Margaret E. Cousins has sent me notes of a tragic case that appears to have just occurred in Madras and has arisen out of a child marriage, the girl being 13 years and the ‘husband’ 26. Hardly had the pair lived together for 13 days when the girl died of burning. The jury have found that she committed suicide owing to the unbearable and inhuman solicitations of the so-called husband. The dying deposition of the girl would go to show that the ‘husband’ had set fire to her clothes. Passion knows no prudence, no pity. But how the girl died is beside the point. The indisputable facts are:

(1) that the girl was married when she was only 13;

(2) that she had no sexual desire in as much as she resisted the advances of the ‘husband’;

(3) that the ‘husband’ did make cruel advances;

(4) and that she is now no more.

It is irreligion, not religion, to give religious sanction to a brutal custom. The smritis bristle with contradictions. The only reasonable deduction to be drawn from the contradictions is that the texts that may be contrary to known and accepted morality, more especially, to the moral precepts enjoined in the smritis themselves, must be rejected as interpolations. Inspiring verses on self-restraint could not be written at the same time and by the same pen that wrote the verses encouraging the brute in man. Only a man innocent of self-restraint and steeped in vice could call it a sin not to marry a girl before she reached the age of monthly periods. It should be held sinful to marry a girl for several years after the periods begin. There cannot be even the thought of marriage before the periods begin. A girl is no fit to bear children on beginning the periods than a lad is to procreate as soon as he grows the first hair on his upper lip. The custom of child marriage is a moral as well as a physical evil. For it undermines our morals and induces physical degeneration. By countenancing such customs we recede from God as well as swaraj. A man who has no thought of the tender age of a girl has none of God. And under grown men have no capacity for fighting battles of freedom or, having gained it, of retaining it. Fight for swaraj means not mere political awakening but an all-round awakening—social, educational, moral, economic and political.

Legislation is being promoted to raise the age of consent. It may be good for bringing a minority to book. But it is not legislation that will cure a popular evil, it is enlightened public opinion that can do it. I am not opposed to legislation in such matters but I do lay greater stress on cultivation of public opinion. The Madras case would have been impossible if there had been a living public opinion against child marriages. The young man in question is not an illiterate labourer but an intelligent educated typist. It would have been impossible for him to marry or touch the girl if public opinion had been against the marriage or the consummation of the marriage of girls of tender age. Ordinarily, a girl under 18 years should never be given in marriage.”7

Mahatma Gandhi described about this evil, “I have no hesitation to repeat the advice that, if there are students who want to be married, they will be performing an act of charity towards the girls of India to seek out child widows when they have outgrown their childhood and they will be doing a service to the country if they make up their minds to end child widowhood by refusing child marriage.”8 Mahatma Gandhi described about this evil, “But I must not be misunderstood. I do not hold that everything ancient is good because it is ancient, I do not advocate surrender of God-given reasoning faculty in the face of ancient tradition. Any tradition, however ancient, if inconsistent with morality, is fit to be banished from the land. Untouchability may be considered to be an ancient tradition, the institution of child widowhood and child marriage may be considered to be ancient tradition, and even so many an ancient horrible belief and superstitious practice. I would sweep them out of existence if I had the power. When, therefore, I talk of respecting the ancient tradition, you now understand what I mean, and it is because I see the same God in the Bhagavad Gita as I see in the Bible and the Koran that I say to the Hindu boys that they will derive greater inspiration from Bhagavad Gita because they will be tuned to the Gita more than to any other book.”9

Mahatma Gandhi described about this evil, “His criticism of child-marriages is largely correct. If the writer goes through the articles in the previous issues of Navajivan, he will see that they have often severely criticized child-marriages. And I also know that these articles have averted some child-marriages. However, there is still room for a great deal of reform. Society is not as much averse to child-marriage as it is to marriage with old men. In my opinion both these are equally objectionable. Hence, there is no difference of opinion between this correspondent and myself with regard to condemnation of child-marriage. If I had the authority or if my pen had enough power, I would use it to prevent every child marriage.

Parents who marry their children at a tender age become their enemies and are responsible for making them dependent and weak. However, the correspondent’s intention appears to be to uphold marriages of old men while discrediting child-marriages. The advantages of marrying an old man as stated by the correspondent seem to be ludicrous and also to ignore completely the poor girl or if there is any consideration for her it is only for her financial condition. The writer appears to forget that consent of the girls who are married off to old men is never secured; perhaps, in his opinion, it is needless to think of it. The correspondent seems to be wholly oblivious of the fact that marriage is a religious rite and, worse still, he fails to remember that marriage with an old man amounts to a doubly culpable child-marriage, as in all such cases not only is the bride a child but the old man who despite age contemplates marriage can only be deemed a child, or something worse. Although the husband may be living it is a kind of widowhood for the girl. Society is least likely to be harmed if old men who cannot control their passions or

who for some other reason wish to marry, do so with old or mature women prepared to enter into such relationship with them.”10

Mahatma Gandhi described about this evil, “The reasons for the physical and mental weakness of our students are quite different. Child-marriages, the fact of us being the fruit of child-marriage, family responsibilities, lack or inadequacy of wholesome diet due to poverty are some of them. Let not the reader commit the error of equating lack of brahmacharya with child-marriage. Very great efforts are required to rid the students of the evil habits that they have formed in their childhood. Evil customs of society must be reformed; the artificial burden imposed by education must be lightened. But since this is an altogether different subject, I shall not discuss it here. I shall say only that our students will not be able to improve their physique by physical exercise alone. We can obtain the desired results only if a simultaneous effort is made on all fronts.”11

Mahatma Gandhi described about this evil, “A professor who contracts child-marriage certainly dishonors students and his own society. But the students, society and all tolerate this outrage. It becomes almost impossible to commit a particular sin if society is not prepared to tolerate it. Therefore, public opinion should be patiently educated against such cruel practices as child-marriage, etc., and where peaceful boycott is possible, that weapon should be used in awakening public opinion. And in accomplishing these tasks if the young people are themselves pure and disciplined, they can help a lot.”12

Coming into effect on November 1, 2007, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) was put into place to address and fix the shortcomings of the Child Marriage Restraint Act. The change in name was meant to reflect the prevention and prohibition of it. The previous Act also made it difficult and time consuming to act against it and did not focus on authorities as possible figures for preventing the marriages. This Act kept the ages of adult males and females the same but made some significant changes to further protect the children. Boys and girls forced into it as minors have the option of voiding their marriage up to two years after reaching adulthood, and in certain circumstances, marriages of minors can be null and void before they reach adulthood. All valuables, money, and gifts must be returned if the marriage is nullified, and the girl must be provided with a place of residency until she marries or becomes an adult. Children born from it are considered legitimate, and the courts are expected to give parental custody with the children's best interests in mind. Any male over 18 years of age who enters into a marriage with a minor or anyone who directs or conducts a child marriage ceremony can be punished with up to two years of imprisonment or a fine.

Mahatma Gandhi described about this evil, “I have your letter. There is no doubt about it that the more young men stand up against child-marriage and enforce their opposition whenever they get an opportunity, the sooner the evil will be removed.”13 Mahatma Gandhi described about this evil, “Much as I wish that I had not to write this chapter, I know that I shall have to swallow many such bitter draughts in the course of this narrative. And I cannot do otherwise, if I claim to be a worshipper of Truth. It is my painful duty to have to record here my marriage at the age of thirteen. As I see the youngsters of the same age about me who are under my care, and think of my own marriage, I am inclined to pity myself and to congratulate them on having escaped my lot. I can see no moral argument in support of such a preposterously early marriage.

Let the reader make no mistake. I was married, not betrothed. For in Kathiawad there are two distinct rites betrothal and marriage. Betrothal is a preliminary promise on the part of the parents of the boy and the girl to join them in marriage, and it is not inviolable. The death of the boy entails no widowhood on the girl. It is an agreement purely between the parents, and the children have no concern with it. Often they are not even informed of it. It appears that I was betrothed thrice, though without my knowledge. I was told that two girls chosen for me had died in turn, and therefore I infer that I was betrothed three times. I have a faint recollection, however, that the third betrothat took place in my seventh year. But I do not recollect having been informed about it.T1 In the present chapter I am talking about my marriage, of which I have the clearest recollection.

It will be remembered that we were three brothers. The first was already married. The elders decided to marry my second brother, who was two or three years my senior, a cousin, possibly a year older, and me, all at the same time. In doing so there was no thought of our welfare, much less our wishes. It was purely a question of their own convenience and economy.

Marriage among Hindus is no simple matter. The parents of the bride and the bridegroom often bring themselves to ruin over it. They waste their substance, they waste their time. Months are taken up over the preparations—in making clothes and ornaments and in preparing budgets for dinners. Each tries to outdo the other in the number and variety of courses to be prepared. Women, whether they have a voice or no, sing themselves hoarse, even get ill, and disturb the peace of their neighbours. These in their turn quietly put up with all the turmoil and bustle, all the dirt and filth, representing the remains of the feasts, because they know that a time will come when they also will be behaving in the same manner.

It would be better, thought my elders, to have all this bother over at one and the same time. Less expense and greater éclat. For money could be freely spent if it had only to be spent once instead of thrice. My father and my uncle were both old, and we were the last children they had to marry. It is likely that they wanted to have the last best time of their lives. In view of all these considerations, a triple wedding was decided upon, and as I have said before, months were taken up in preparation for it. It was only through these preparations that we got warning of the coming event. I do not think it meant to me anything more than the prospect of good clothes to wear, drum beating, marriage processions, rich dinners and a strange girl to play with. The carnal desire came later.T2 I propose to draw the curtain over my shame, except for a few details worth recording. To these I shall come later. But even theyT3 have little to do with the central idea I have kept before me in writing this story.

So my brother and I were both taken to Porbandar from Rajkot. There are some amusing details of the preliminaries to the final drama—e.g., smearing our bodies all over with turmeric paste—but I must omit them.

My father was a Diwan, but nevertheless a servant, and all the more so because he was in favour with the Thakore Saheb. The latter would not let him go until the last moment. And when he did so, he ordered for my father special stage-coaches, reducing the journey by two days. But the fates had willed otherwise. Porbandar is 120 miles from Rajkot—a cart journey of five days. My father did the distance in three, but the coach toppled over in the third stage, and he sustained severe injuries. He arrived bandaged all over. Both his and our interest in the coming event was half destroyed, but the ceremony had to be gone through. For how could the marriage dates be changed? However, I forgot my grief over my father’s injuries in the childish amusement of the wedding.

I was devoted to my parents. But no less was I devoted to the passions that flesh is heir to.T4 I had yet to learn that all happiness and pleasure should be sacrificed in devoted service to my parents. And yet, as though by way of punishment for my desire for pleasures, an incident happened, which has ever since rankled in my mind and which I will relate later. Nishkulanand1 sings: ‘Renunciation of objects, without the renunciation of desires, is short-lived, however hard you may try.’ Whenever I sing this song or hear it sung, this bitter untoward incident rushes to my memory and fills me with shame.

My father put on a brave face in spite of his injuries, and took full part in the wedding. As I think of it, I can even today call before my mind’s eye the places where he sat as he went through the different details of the ceremony. Little did I dream then that one day I should severely criticize my father for having married me as a child? Everything on that day seemed to me right and proper and pleasing. There was also my own eagerness to get married. And as everything that my father did then struck me as beyond reproach, the recollection of those things is fresh in my memory. I can picture to myself, even today, how we sat on our wedding dais, how we performed the Saptapadi, how we, the newly wedded husband and wife, put the sweet kansar into each other’s mouth, and how we began to live together, and oh! that first night. Two innocent children all unwittingly hurled themselves into the ocean of life. My brother’s wife had thorough- ly coached me about my behaviour on the first night. I do not know who had coached my wife. I have never asked her about it, nor am I inclined to do so now. The reader may be sure that we were too nervous to face each other. We were certainly too shy. How was I to talk to her, and what was I to say ? The coaching could not carry me far. But no coaching is really necessary in such matters. The impressions of the former birth are potent enough to make all coaching superfluous. We gradually began to know each other, and to speak freely together. We were the same age. But I took no time in assuming the authority of a husband.”14

Mahatma Gandhi described about this evil, “Many others must be in such a plight. I would advise all such persons to refuse firmly to get into the bonds of such a marriage and to suffer whatever consequences follow from the refusal. Such marriages are a sign of our weak minds. This weakness retards our growth socially, economically, politically and spiritually. If we should assert our mental strength in one field, its effect cannot but be felt in the others. Hence I particularly advise youths in such a plight not to submit themselves, whatever the cost, to evil customs like child-marriage which are a bane to the society. Let them however show the utmost courtesy in their conduct towards the elders and equally scrupulous regard for truth. Courtesy without full regard for truth is no courtesy. It is only flattery, it is hypocrisy, and, therefore, truly speaking, it is discourtesy.”15

Mahatma Gandhi described about this evil, “The figures should cause us all to hang our heads in shame. But that won’t remedy the evil. The evil of child-marriage is at least as extensive in the villages as in the cities. It is pre-emi-nently women’s work. Men have no doubt to do their share. But when a man turns into a beast, he is not likely to listen to reason. It is the mothers who have to be educated to understand their privilege and duty of refusal. Who can teach them this but women? I venture to suggest therefore that the All-India Women’s Conference to be true to its name has to descend to the villages. The bulletins are valuable. They only reach a few of the English-knowing city-dwellers. What is needed is personal touch with the village women. Even when, if ever, it is established, the task won’t be easy. But some day or other the beginning has to be made in that direction before any result can be hoped for. Will the All-India Women’s Conference make common cause with the All-India Village Industries Association? No village worker, no matter how able he or she is, need expect to approach villagers purely for the sake of social reform. They will have to touch all spheres of village life. Village work, I must repeat, means real education, not in the three R’s but in opening the minds of the villagers to the needs of true life befitting thinking beings which humans are supposed to be.”

Mahatma Gandhi described about this evil, “Drawing their attention to social evils like child marriage, marriage of old men with young girls, sale of daughters, meaningless community feasts, lewd dancing, bringing up of young girls in sin in the name of religion, marrying of young widows, the purdah system etc., and encouraging them to do away with them.”17 Apni Beti, Apna Dhan, which translates to "Our Daughter, Our Wealth," is one of India’s  first conditional cash transfer programs dedicated to delaying young marriages across the nation. In 1994, the Government of India implemented this program in the state of Haryana. On the birth of a mother's first, second, or third child, they are set to receive 500 rupees, or 11 USD, within the first 15 days to cover their post-delivery needs. Along with this, the government gives 2,500 rupees, or 55 USD, to invest in a long-term savings bond in the daughter's name, which can be later cashed for 25,000 rupees, or 550 USD, after her 18 birthday. She can only receive the money if she is not married.





  1. VOL. 16: 1 SEPTEMBER, 1917 - 23 APRIL, 1918; Page- 94
  2. VOL. 16: 1 SEPTEMBER, 1917 - 23 APRIL, 1918; Page-  276
  3. LETTER TO MOHANDAS NAGJI; June 23, 1918
  4. VOL. 19: 29 SEPTEMBER, 1919 - 24 MARCH, 1920; Page-  309
  5. VOL. 27: 12 JANUARY, 1924 - 21 MAY, 1924; Page-  431
  6. Navajivan, 14-3-1926
  7. Young India, 26-8-1926
  8. VOL. 40 : 2 SEPTEMBER, 1927 - 1 DECEMBER, 1927; Page-  103
  9. Young India, 22-9-1927
  10. Navajivan, 25-3-1928
  11. Navajivan, 24-6-1928
  12. Navajivan, 1-7-1928
  13. LETTER TO J. S. AKARTE; September 22, 1928
  14. VOL. 44 : 16 JANUARY, 1929 - 3 FEBRUARY, 1929; Page-  97
  15. VOL. 48 : 21 NOVEMBER, 1929 - 2 APRIL, 1930; Page-  280
  16. Harijan, 16-11-1935
  17. VOL. 98: 6 DECEMBER, 1947 - 30 JANUARY, 1948; Page-  256




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