Row over changes to Rajasthan’s marriage registration Act

New bill will legitimise child marriages, says Opposition BJP

September 21, 2021 08:41 pm | Updated 08:41 pm IST - JAIPUR

A Bill to amend the Rajasthan Compulsory Registration of Marriages Act, 2009, passed in the State Assembly, has generated a controversy with the Opposition BJP charging that it will validate child marriages. The Congress government has contended that the amended provisions will only streamline the registration process, without changing the status of nuptial ties of minors.

The Bill, passed last week, has sought to amend Sections 5 and 8 of the Act, dealing with the appointment of Marriage Registration Officers and the duty of parties to a marriage to submit the memorandum for registration. The amendment authorises the women above 18 years to provide information of their marriage on their own.

While the Act of 2009 stated that the parents or guardians of the bride and bridegroom were responsible to submit the memorandum if both the boy and the girl had not completed the age of 21 years, the latest amendment reduces the age of bride to 18 years for casting the duty on parents to report about the marriage to the Registration Officer within 30 days of the union.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Shanti Dhariwal clarified in the Assembly that the provision for mandatory registration of all marriages, including the child marriages, existed in the Act of 2009, and the amendment had only reduced the age of girls from 21 years to 18 years for their responsibility to report about their marriage, which was earlier the duty of their parents.

In a statement issued after sine die adjournment of the Assembly, the State government said the Amendment Bill had been brought to protect legal rights of children, stop multiple marriages and take care of the matters related to maintenance and inheritance.

“Registration of child marriages is not meant to legitimise them. Every minor has the right to get his or her marriage annulled upon becoming major,” it said.

The State government also said the Supreme Court’s judgement of 2006 in Seema vs. Ashwini Kumar had made it compulsory to register all marriages, including child marriages, of Indian citizens. The Registrars of Marriage report about child marriages to the District Collector for appropriate action on getting the memorandum for registration.

Four child marriages were registered under the Compulsory Registration of Marriages Act in 2016, 10 in 2017 and 17 in 2018, according to the State government.

However, Leader of Opposition Gulab Chand Kataria said the Amendment Bill violated the law against child marriages and would pave the way for wedding of minor children as a social evil. The BJP MLAs staged a walkout in the House when the Bill was passed with voice vote.

Rajasthan had emerged as the State with the highest incidence of child marriage both among boys, which was 8.6%, and girls, which was 8.3%, in the 2011 Census. According to the National Family Health Survey-4 data collected in 2015-16, 16.2% of the girls aged 15 to 19 years were married before the age of 18 in the State, with variations across districts.

Bar Council of Rajasthan’s member Ghanshyam Singh Rathore told The Hindu on Tuesday that the amendment had not touched the legislations like Child Marriage Restraint Act, Juvenile Justice Act and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act. “Despite its registration, the child marriage continues to be an offence,” he said.

Mr. Rathore, practising as a lawyer in Rajasthan High Court's Jaipur Bench, said the Opposition was misinterpreting the amendment, without understanding its nuances. Even the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights’ decision to examine the Bill and take legal recourse against it was a “political stunt”, he said.

Additional Advocate General Vibhuti Bhushan Sharma said the amendment would streamline the process for getting marriage certificate, required at several places, and create documentary evidence to facilitate action against minor children's nuptial ties. Save the Children's Ramakanta Satapathy said though the legislative intent was good, the State government should intensify action against those solemnising child marriages.

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