Registered But Not Valid: Why Rajasthan Government's Justification For 'Child Marriage Law' Leaves More Questions Than Answers

Registered But Not Valid: Why Rajasthan Government's Justification For 'Child Marriage Law' Leaves More Questions Than AnswersRepresentative image. (Wikimedia Commons)
Snapshot
  • Rajasthan opposition is up in arms against the new law, claiming it to be legitimising child marriages.

The Rajasthan government on Friday passed a new law to make the registration of child marriages compulsory in a state notorious for underage marriages. The opposition criticised the law as legitimising child marriages.

As per the NFHS-4 (2015-16), in India, 27 per cent of women aged 20-24 years got married before attaining the legal minimum age of 18. For Rajasthan, the number stood at 35 per cent.

The state assembly passed the Rajasthan Compulsory Registration of Marriages (Amendment) Bill, 2021 by voice vote to amend the Rajasthan Compulsory Registration of Marriages Act 2009. There is not much difference between the both. The 2009 act had stated the same, with the only difference being that the age mentioned was 21 years for both boys and girls.

Prohibition Of Child Marriage Act 2006

Currently, the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 bars the practice of child marriage. In 2006, Prohibition of Child Marriage Act was enacted by Parliament to address the loopholes of the former. It prescribes 18 and 21 years as the minimum age of consent for marriage for women and men respectively. A 'child marriage' is one where either of the parties is below the prescribed age.

The 2006 law

  • allows anyone who was a child at the time of getting married to legally undo it;

  • provides for maintenance for the girl in a child marriage;

  • treats children born out of child marriages to be legitimate, and makes provisions for their custody and maintenance; and

  • considers certain kinds of child marriages where there was force or trafficking as marriages which never happened legally.

The law makes it a punishable offence for an adult male to marry a child wife; to perform or help with a child marriage in any way; to allow, encourage or fail to stop a child marriage; and attend or take part in a child marriage as a parent or guardian.

As per the law, child marriages are not void ab initio. However, the marriage can be nullified on the ground of being a child marriage by going to the court.

The New Bill

The new bill has following provisions:

  • Mandatory registration of marriages, including child marriages

  • The bride and groom within a child marriage can apply for registration of marriage to the marriage registration officer of the place where they have been residing for more than 30 days. In case they are below the prescribed ages, their parents can also get the registration done within 30 days of the marriage

  • While earlier, only the District Marriage Registration Officer (DMRO) was authorised to register the marriages, the bill passed on Friday empowers the government to appoint Additional DMRO and Block MRO to register marriages

  • A widow or a widower, or their children, parents or kin in case both have died, can register their marriage within 30 days of the death.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Shanti Kumar Dhariwal explained that the bill does not say that child marriage is valid.

“Even if a marriage among underage children is held, its registration is mandatory. However, the bill doesn’t make the marriage legal and the District Collector can take action against them,” the minister said.

He added that the bill doesn’t go against the 2006 act either. He also said that in 2006, the Supreme Court had ruled that registering marriage is mandatory, whether one is minor or not.

Dhariwal said that in absence of a marriage certificate, a widow is often deprived of access to various schemes and so the amendment will be a step towards resolving the same.

The Opposition

Bharatiya Janata Party's Gulab Chand Kataria, the Leader of Opposition, said, "I think this law is completely wrong. The legislators who have passed it have not seen it. Section 8 of the bill violates the present law in force against the child marriages".

Kataria criticised the 2009 law as well. “Back then too, you had used the same words as now… you are authorising minor kids to get married. The only restriction is that their kin have to inform within 30 days.”

“We made a mistake once and now we are repeating it,” Kataria said, and apologised for the 2009 act saying that he was a member of the assembly back then too. “If minor kids get married and the state gives them a certificate as per law then how is this correct?” he said, asking what will the punishment be if the kin of married underage kids don’t give information.

Independent MLA Sanyam Lodha, who supported the formation of the Congress government in the state, said that the Bill “justifies child marriage, it is wrong, against the people. There is now an abundance of people who educate their children and don’t like child marriages. But if you justify child marriages, this will send a wrong message to the nation. The Rajasthan assembly will be humiliated before the entire nation.”

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