Child Marriage Act: Rights panels assail senators for rejecting amendment

Supreme Court

Although gender rights activists have welcomed the SC ruling saying that the recent ruling might reduce the increasing number of child marriages, TOI reported. The rape of a married girl child (between 15 and 18 years) is not rape under the IPC and therefore not an offence in view of Exception 2 to Section 375 thereof but it is an offence of aggravated penetrative sexual assault under Section 5 (n) of the POCSO Act and punishable under Section 6 of that Act.

"I have also discussed it with religious scholars and they also believe that girls can be married before the age of 18 according to Islam, so these kinds of bills cannot be passed", he said in the Senate Wednesday.

Indian law says a woman must be at least 18 to marry and consent to sex, but there are exceptions and a man was permitted to have sex, even forcibly, with a girl as young as 15, as long as she was his wife.

Referring to the IPC and the POCSO Act, the apex court said there was a visible conflict between the two laws with regard to the sexual assault on girl child aged between 15 to 18 years. Despite improvement in literacy levels, child marriages are still common in different parts of the country.

Highlighting the inconsistencies in various laws, the Supreme Court on Wednesday also touched upon separate marriage laws for Hindus and Muslims and said the provisions make a "mockery" of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA).

In February this year, Pakistan's Parliament sought to toughen the punishment for child marriage by introducing a mandatory five-year prison sentence and a fine of up to one million rupees ($10,000) for those caught marrying any girl under the age of 16.

The court slammed the government for trying to "somehow legitimise" the exception clause.

"The court's judgment fails to recognise an individual's right to sexuality".

Noting that child marriage is an abhorrent practice that severely impacts the health and well being of children, the consequences being greater for the girl child who are more vulnerable to physical and sexual violence at the hands of the family and the partner, the apex court has observed that a girl below the age of 18 does not cease to be a child in the eyes of law simply because she has been married at an early age.

The government estimates that there are now 23m child brides in India and that 46% of women aged 18 to 29 had been married before the age of 18.

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