Aadhaar cannot prevent child marriage

(Concern raised in this tweet by data security researcher Srinivas Kodali)

In its Regional Conference on Child Marriage held in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, earlier this year, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) brought out recommendations for implementation by various state governments “so that the menace of child marriage is curbed and ultimately eliminated from the society”. The conference saw participation from six states, viz. Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha and was attended by the senior Government officials, members of State Commission for Women, State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, police officers, legal experts, Resource Persons and representatives of around 35 NGOs/CSOs/HR organisations and academic institutions.

Among the recommendations suggested by Working Group-I (discussing Child Marriage: A reality Check of Present Status, Issues and Challenges) is the suggestion that there “should be compulsory registration of marriage linked with the unique identification number i.e., Aadhaar, to keep a check on child marriages” [Pg. 22]. The NHRC document does not offer any rationale for how Aadhaar will help keep such a check, although it is presumable that Aadhaar is seen as an infallible proof of age in this context.

As with other programmes and schemes for which Aadhaar linking has been mandated, the NHRC approach also fails to account for extant failures of using Aadhaar, besides also ignoring that Aadhaar is not meant to be a proof of age (or of citizenship, address, or even identity!). Last year, for instance, the Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights asked the Social Justice Department to follow the Juvenile Justice Act and not consider either the PAN Card or the Aadhaar as proof of age – the accepted documents are birth certificate and matriculation (or equivalent) certificate alone. Just last month, child helpline authorities in Andhra Pradesh also deemed that Aadhaar is not sufficient proof for marriages.

This rejection is rooted in the fact that Aadhaar enrolment operators have been lackadaisical in recording correct date of birth data – a simple Google search reveals this to be the case in a number of states! Furthermore, as Nachiket Udupa and Ankita Anand attest through their own experience, the Aadhaar linking mechanism is neither foolproof, nor does it comply with the safeguards prescribed.

The problems posed by faulty implementation or faking of Aadhaar are no longer hypothetical – a 11-year old from Bulandshahr was married off with a fake Aadhaar attesting to her being of eligible age; the Delhi Commission for Women came down heavily on the police after finding that the cops were only looking at Aadhaar as a proof when checking if prostitutes were minors, again in contravention of the JJ Act. In March this year, the Madhya Pradesh High Court, while hearing a habeas corpus petition, came across two Aadhaar cards pertaining to one individual bearing the same number, having different dates of birth and directed the state government and the Unique Identification Authority of India to conduct enquiries.

It is not known if or how the various state governments have adopted the NHRC’s recommendations.

N.B. – Point 3 of Rule 12 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Rules, 2007, states:
“In every case concerning a child or juvenile in conflict with law, the age determination inquiry shall be conducted by the court or the Board or, as the case may be, the Committee by seeking evidence by obtaining—

(a) (i) the matriculation or equivalent certificates, if available; and in the absence whereof;
(ii) the date of birth certificate from the school (other than a play school) first attended; and in the absence whereof;
(iii) the birth certificate given by a corporation or a municipal authority or a panchayat;
(b) and only in the absence of either (i),(ii) or (iii) of clause (a) above, the medical opinion will be sought from a duly constituted Medical Board, which will declare the age of the juvenile or child. In case exact assessment of the age cannot be done, the Court or the Board or, as the case may be, the Committee, for the reasons to be recorded by them, may, if considered necessary, give benefit to the child or juvenile by considering his/her age on lower side within the margin of one year.

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