Rajasthan is in the news but not for a good cause this time. The State Legislative Assembly there has passed a bill that would amend the Rajasthan Compulsory Registration of Marriages Act, 2009. The new bill has made it compulsory to register all kinds of marriage.
It now allows the registration of even child marriages. Bhartiya Janta Party is furious over this decision and they are calling it a black day. Their stand is that by allowing the registration of child marriages, they are indirectly legalizing it. The opposition has also accused the government of doing vote bank politics as Rajasthan has one of the highest numbers of child marriage cases.
How our law defines Child Marriage?
A "child marriage" is defined as a marriage in which either the bride or groom is a child. According to the law, any male who has not completed 21 years and any female who has not completed 18 years is a child. Section 3 of the Act makes child marriages voidable at the option of the contracting party being a child. Voidable, in law, is a transaction or action that is valid but may be annulled by one of the parties to the transaction. The following are the offenses under the Act:
- Any male above the age of 18 years who indulge in child marriage.
- There are provisions for punishment to anyone who performs of conduct the child marriage unless he/she justifies in court that they had a valid reason to think that this was now a child marriage.
- any person having charge of the child, whether a parent or guardian or any other person or in any other capacity, lawful or unlawful, including any member of an organization or association of persons who does any act to promote the marriage or permits it to be solemnized or negligently fails to prevent it from being solemnized, including attending or participating in child marriage.
As observed by the Full Bench of Delhi High Court in Court on its motion (Lajja Devi). State (NCT of Delhi)*, the 2006 Act does not make a child marriage void per se but only declares it as avoidable. On the one hand, child marriage is treated as an offense that is punishable under law, and on the other hand, it still treats this marriage as valid, i.e., voidable till it is declared as void.
Increasing cases of Child Marriage in India
According to NCRB data, a 50% increase in the cases of child marriage has been reported in the year 2020 compared to the previous year. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data of 2020, a total of 785 cases were registered under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act.
Karnataka topped the list with a total case count of 184, followed by Assam at 138, West Bengal at 98, Tamil Nadu at 77, and Telangana at 62. In 2019, 523 child marriage cases were registered under the act, while in 2018, 501 cases were registered.
According to the data, the number of cases registered under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act in 2018 was 501, in 2017 was 395, in 2016 was 326 and in 2015 was 293.
What has happened in Rajasthan?
Rajasthan Compulsory Registration Of Marriages (Amendment) Bill was moved by the Ashok Gehlot government in the Rajasthan state assembly on August 16. The passed bill amended Section 8 of the Rajasthan Compulsory Registration of Marriages Act, 2009.
The original provision required the family to register the marriage if the bride and groom were under 21. Age criteria for both parties were the same. But the amended version requires the parent or the concerned people to register the marriage within 30 days of the wedding “if the bride is under 18 and the bridegroom is under 21”.
The BJP blamed the Congress government for opening “the floodgates” for child marriage in the state and providing “validation to what is a social evil”.
Rajasthan had forbidden child marriage by introducing the Child Marriage Prohibition Act in 2006. The law seems to have helped to bring down the cases of child marriage, as shown in the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) data of 2015-16.
Rajasthan government said in its defense that " the bill does not say that child marriage is valid". The bill simply says that registration is mandatory after marriage. If the collector wants, he/she may take action against the act.
He further added that a marriage certificate is a legal document and there are plenty of cases where a woman could not avail widow benefits by the government due to lack of certificate. This law will bring simplicity and transparency. Girl or the boy, anyone can declare null and void once they become adult.
BJP on the other hand is accusing the government of promoting this evil practice. How can child marriage be registered in the government's record if it is illegal? And if you are planning to take action against it, how do you expect people to register the same?