Apex court laments inaction against child marriages

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

NEW DELHI - The Supreme Court Tuesday lamented that thousands of marriages involving minor girls were being solemnised in the country, particularly in Rajasthan, and yet no action was being taken by those in authority.

“Hundreds of marriages take place. Not in hundreds but in thousands. Everyone knows it. Dates of marriages are fixed. Wedding cards are printed and distributed. Advertisements are placed in newspapers. It is in everyone’s knowledge. Yet no action is taken,” said the apex court bench of Justice Dalveer Bhandari and Justice A.K. Ganguly.

The court’s observation came on a petition by the National Commission for Women (NCW).

The NCW has challenged a Delhi High Court verdict that held that if woman had not attained the age of 18 years and man had not turned 21, their marriage could not be held to be void if the girl makes a statement before the court that she married the man voluntarily. The high court judgment was delivered Aug 11, 2010.

The central government told the court that marriage between the age group of 16-18 should be treated as “void” if either of the couple decides to walk out.

Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising told the court that this was the only way to deal with the marriages between lovers who runaway from their homes before entering into the wedlock.

In these cases, the woman at the age of 16 is treated as having attained the age of consent for sexual relationship but is still not an adult (aged 18) to give her consent for marriage.

The court was told that due to this irreconcilable situation, the man who marries a woman of 16 years runs the risk of being charged for kidnapping and rape.

The court was also told that government had yet to take a view on the recommendation of the law commission in this regard. However, it left it for the court to take a final decision.

The NCW has challenged the high court judgment as it legalises the marriage of minor girls, which can have a consequential affect on their health and security in the long run.

It contended that such a situation has arisen because of the different definition of minor under different laws.

The court was told that an age of 16 years was good enough to give consent for sex, 18 years was the age for exercising the right to vote and 21 years was the age for marriage for men

Justice Ganguly observed that exercising the right to vote involved greater maturity and responsibility then any other thing.

The court observed: “It has to be a uniform age. It cannot be different for different situations.”

Appearing for the NCW, counsel Aparna Bhat expressed some reservation on the suggestions made by Jaising on behalf of the government.

The court adjourned hearing and listed the case for March 15 for further hearing.

Filed under: Court, Immigration

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