The State government will not repeal the circular issued by the Local Self-Government Department directing the local bodies to register marriages of Muslim women aged above 16 and men below 21 on furnishing a certificate from religious regulatory institutions.
James Varghese, Principal Secretary, Local Self-Government, told The Hindu here on Sunday that the circular had been issued under provisions of the Marriage Registration Act and the Child Marriage Prevention Act. Under the rules, if a woman got married between the ages of 16 and 18 and did not file a petition seeking to annul the union, the marriage would be legally valid. Such marriages were voidable but were not void.
Rules do not prescribe a specific age limit for registering a marriage. On producing a certificate of a religious institution or a social organisation which solemnises a marriage, the secretary of a local body, who is the registrar, is bound to issue a certificate. On finding a disparity in the age, the secretary can well refer such cases to the District Magistrate for initiating punitive action.
Mr. Varghese said the provision for registering marriages would offer an opportunity to bring such cases to the fore. Repealing the circular or setting a cut-off date for clearing the backlog in registration was unviable. There were many couples awaiting marriage certificates. A marriage certificate issued by a local body was imperative for them to migrate, mainly to the Gulf countries. The government could not afford to overlook the plight of such citizens. The latest circular would only ease the woes of such couples.
But people say that despite being duty-bound to report underage marriages, the secretaries of the local bodies are not doing so as no one comes forward to file a complaint against such marriages. Instances of the women or their relatives filing complaints too are not there. Quite often, such issues are taken up by social workers.