New Delhi: The opposition BJP is accusing the ruling Congress in Rajasthan of promoting child marriage after the state assembly Friday passed a bill amending the Marriage Act, 2009. But the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government defended it, saying it only made “technical changes” to existing legislation.
The Rajasthan Compulsory Registration of Marriages (Amendment) Bill, 2021, amends Section 8 of the 2009 Act that underlines the need to submit a memorandum for registration of a marriage to a registrar under whose jurisdiction the act is solemnised.
The amendment, according to legal website LiveLaw, allows for parents of girls below the age of 18 and boys below the age of 21 to register their children’s marriages. But the website noted that the 2009 law also had similar provisions, only differing on the fact that parents and guardians had the responsibility to register the marriages.
“In essence, both, the Act of 2009 and the proposed amendment to the act, make the registration of child marriage mandatory, with the only difference being, under the proposed amendment, if a girl is 18 or above the age of 18, it would be her duty to submit the memorandum of her marriage, while as of now, it is the duty of her parents to do so,” LiveLaw noted.
Several BJP leaders in the state are calling the amendment a direct violation of the law put in place against child marriages.
Satish Poonia, the Rajasthan BJP president, said the government is hell-bent on getting its way, come what may. “It’s an orthodox and conservative amendment; it will only encourage the illegal act of child marriage,” he told ThePrint.
He added that there was widespread lack of awareness and information on this issue. “In Rajasthan, girls as young as 14 years old are married off. There are a lot of people in the state who don’t even know that it is illegal,” Poonia said.
“Passing this amendment will lead the masses to think it’s okay to marry off a girl below 18. Not only is this a political issue, it’s also a social one. We will do whatever we can to oppose this bill in a social and political way,” he added.
Rajendra Rathod, the deputy leader of opposition, too protested the move.
“I am surprised that (this happened) in Rajasthan, where child marriages are considered a regressive custom, and where, in 1927, the Sharda Act (Child Marriage Restraint Act) came into existence,” he said. “It was passed by Harvilas Sharda and it was replaced by the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, (but) today the numbers prove that Rajasthan is still in the hold of this regressive custom.”
According to a National Commission of Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) report based on data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 4, Rajasthan has a much higher prevalance of child marriage as compared to the national average — the figures are 16.2 per cent and 11.9 per cent respectively.
Only technical change, says govt
The government insists that it has only made a “technical change” to an existing law.
“The opposition is lying when it says that the law gives way to child marriage. We all know that is prohibited. When the issue was raised in the assembly, our law minister clarified very succinctly that no girl below the age of 18 can get married,” Pratap Singh Khachariyawas, a cabinet minister in the Ashok Gehlot government, told ThePrint.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Shanti Kumar Dhariwal was quick to defend the move on the floor of the house, as he cited a 2006 Supreme Court ruling which made marriage registration compulsory, even those of underaged persons.
He said registration will now be possible with the district marriage registration officer, additional district marriage registration officer and the block marriage registration officer.
“These officers will be able to monitor and review the work of registration. This will make it easier for the general public to register. This will bring simplicity and transparency to the work. If the district collector wants, he or she can still take action against child marriages,” Dhariwal said. “The bill does not say that child marriage is valid. The bill says that after marriage, only registration is necessary. It does not imply that child marriage is valid.”
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)