The anti-child marriage law does not intend to punish a male aged between 18 and 21 years for marrying a “female adult,” the Supreme Court has held in a recent judgment.
A Bench led by Justice Mohan M. Shantanagoudar was interpreting Section 9 of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, which says: “whoever, being a male adult above 18 years of age, contracts a child marriage shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment which may extend to two years or with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees or with both.”
The court said neither does the provision punish a child for marrying a woman nor a woman for marrying a male child. The latter because “in a society like ours, decisions regarding marriage are usually taken by the family members of the bride and groom, and women generally have little say in the matter.”
The sole objective of the provision is to punish a man for marrying a minor girl. “The intention behind punishing only male adults contracting child marriages is to protect minor girls,” the court reasoned.
It said the 2006 Act also gives an option for prospective grooms who are between 18 and 21 years old to opt out of marriages.
The case at hand concerned a boy who married a 21-year-old woman when he was 17 years old.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court had set aside its own order providing protection to the couple, and initiated prosecution against the boy for contracting a child marriage, in which he himself was the child.
The Supreme Court set aside the HC order, saying the intent behind Section 9 was not to punish a child for contracting a child marriage.