New Delhi: Men may soon be able to get married legally as soon as they become adults, just like women, if a new government proposal goes through.
The Modi government, it is learnt, is considering standardising the minimum age for marriage at 18 years for both men and woman. Under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) 2006, the lawful age for marriage currently stands at 21 for men and 18 for women.
The proposed amendments to the Act were discussed at an inter-ministerial meeting headed by the Ministry of Women and Child Development on 18 October, sources told ThePrint.
Participants included the ministries of law and justice, home, health, minority affairs, and tribal affairs.
Another proposal on the table is to make child marriages void by default.
Under current law, child marriage is voidable, which means it can be recognised after the two parties attain the legal age for marriage.
If the government’s proposal goes through, a child marriage would not be recognised even if both partners consent to the union as adults.
“Section 3 of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, which provides for voidability of child marriage at the instance of a contracting party within two years of attaining majority to be amended so as to make child marriages void ab initio with prospective effect,” the proposal says.
‘To correct a discrepancy’
According to sources in the government, the amendments have been proposed in light of a 2017 Supreme Court judgment that equated sex with a minor wife with rape.
“While this judgment was landmark, it introduced a discrepancy of sorts legally because child marriage was not void by default, but sex with a minor wife became a criminal act,” said a government official. “So by making child marriages void by default, the contradiction in law would go away.”
In addition, sources said, the government is also looking to remove the words “maintenance” and “residence” from the Act, and replace it with “compensation”.
“Since maintenance and residence are given to a spouse, these words would be removed, and the word compensation added,” the aforementioned official said.
Currently, the PCMA has a provision where a court can ask the groom and his family to provide maintenance and residence to a child bride, if the marriage is voided, until she is remarried.
A fourth proposal vis-a-vis the PCMA envisages increased punishment and fine for those who abet, promote or solemnise child marriages.
The government, sources said, wants to increase jail time for offenders from two to seven years, and fine from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 7 lakh.