The meagre penalties under Orphanages Act will have a direct bearing on the question of sanctioning prosecution against an orphanage in Kozhikode, allegedly involved in the marriage of minor under its care with a UAE national

A 53-year-old Central law prohibits orphanages and charitable homes from fixing the marriage of minors and women residents under their care without consent. But the penalty imposed is only Rs.250 for violating the law.

As per The Orphanages and Other Charitable Homes (Supervision and Control) Act of 1960, institution authorities found guilty of fixing the victim’s marriage without her express consent or the prior consent of the Board of Control of Orphanages and Other Charitable Homes are liable to face imprisonment of three months or pay a fine of Rs.250, or both.

A repeat offence sees only a marginal hike in prison term and fine, that is, six months or Rs.1,000, or both.

Same is the penalty if institutions ‘discharge’ a woman resident or ‘entrust her to the care of any other person’ without her consent.

The meagre penalties under the Act will have a direct bearing on the question of sanctioning prosecution against an orphanage here, allegedly involved in the marriage of 17-year-old girl under its care with a United Arab Emirates (UAE) national.

The foreign national married the 17-year-old on June 13. He left the country on July 1 and divorced her through triple talaq over the phone.

The Board of Control of Orphanages and Other Charitable Homes has since recommended the District Collector to take strong action against the orphanage under the Act.

But District Collector C.A. Latha does not mince words when she calls the penalty of Rs.250 under the statute as “paltry”.

Official sources say that prosecution, even if sanctioned, can end up as a futile exercise with hardly any deterrent value in future.

The case is hanging in balance with Ms. Latha awaiting legal opinion on prosecution sanction. Section 25 of the Act gives her the power to sanction prosecution in the capacity of District Magistrate.

“Besides most of the orphanage authorities had resigned and a police investigation is on in the case,” she added.

Board chairman P.C. Ibrahim on Monday told The Hindu that there was a clear violation of the provisions of the Act.

“To a showcause notice issued by us to the orphanage, they justified their role saying it happened because of their ignorance. We even forwarded this information to the District Collector in our complaint,” Mr. Ibrahim said.

“It is high time the Act sees an amendment. It is archaic. The penalty imposed is too low to make an impact. As of now we are bound to take action only within the provisions of this Act,” he said.

Advocate Noorbeena Rashid, Member, Kerala State Women’s Commission, compares the Act with the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2007.

She said the 1960 Act can even be interpreted as proceeding to legalise marriage of minors if prior consent of the Orphanage Board is got.

“There is absolutely no clarity in the Act. It has to be amended,” she said.

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