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Rajasthan Bill To Allow Child Marriage?

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The Rajasthan State Assembly on 17th September 2021, passed a bill to amend a 2009 Act, i.e., “Rajasthan Compulsory Registration of Marriages Act”, according to which it is mandatory to register marriages. The controversy aroused when it included child marriages as well.

The bill was passed to amend, inter alia, Section 8 of the 2009 Act that speaks of the duty of parties to submit a memorandum for registration of their marriage to the Marriage Registrar. Only then the marriage will be solemnised.

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Therefore, as per the amendment:

  • Parties of the marriage will be authorised to get the marriage registered in case the bride and groom have completed the age of 18 and 21 years respectively.
  • In case the groom has not completed twenty-one years and/or the bride has not completed eighteen years, the parents or the guardian must register the marriage within 30 days of the event.

In other words, if parties (bride or groom) haven’t completed the legal age of getting married, then their parents or their guardians have to submit the memorandum.

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Now, if this amendment bill becomes an act, then the law would be that if the bride hasn’t completed 18 years of age and/or the groom hasn’t completed 21 years of age, then their parents or their guardians have the duty to submit the memorandum.

In essence, both, the Act of 2009 and the proposed amendment to the act, make the registration of child marriage mandatory.  The only difference is that 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.

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Image source: Hindustan Times

What are the other additions?

The Amendment Bill seeks to add a new sub-section (1-A) before sub-section (2) under Section 8 in the existing bill. As per the latest amendments, a widow or a widower, their children, parents, and kin (in case both the parties of the marriage have died), will be able to register their marriage within 30 days of their death.

Also, the bill seeks to extend the marriage registration officers to the block level whereas the 2009 Act had provided scope only for district marriage registration officers. Thus, a new District Marriage Registration Officer will be appointed.

Moreover, the Government will choose a new Additional Marriage Registration Officer and Block Marriage Registration Officer who will monitor and review the work of marriage registrations at the district and block level.

Accordingly, section 5 of the Act has been proposed to be amended. Consequently, clause (f) of sections 2 and 15 have also been proposed to be amended.

The Oppositions and Allegations

The opposition BJP is accusing the ruling party- Congress, of promoting child marriage.

However, the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government defended it. It said that they only made “technical changes” to existing legislation.

Satish Poonia, Rajasthan’s BJP president, said that the government is hell-bent on getting its way. “It’s an orthodox and conservative amendment. It will only encourage the illegal act of child marriage,” he told ThePrint. He added that there is a 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.

Rajendra Rathod, the deputy leader of the opposition, too protested the move. “Today in Rajasthan, the numbers prove that Rajasthan is still in the hold of this regressive custom,” Rathod said.

Only “technical” change, says the government

The government insists that it has only made a “technical change” to the 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 Congress government, told ThePrint.

Also, Minister Shanti Kumar Dhariwal was quick to defend the move. He said, “The bill does not say that child marriage is valid. The bill says that after marriage, only registration is necessary. This does not imply that child marriage is valid”.

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