Rajasthan Compulsory Registrations of Marriage Amendment Bill, 2021

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    • Rajasthan Compulsory Registration of Marriages (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was passed recently by the Rajasthan Assembly.
      • The Bill was opposed by the opposition, civil societies, women’s organisations and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).
      • It was alleged to legitimise child marriage. 
      • Petitions have been filed in the High Court and the Supreme Court.

    Rajasthan Compulsory Registration of Marriages (Amendment) Bill, 2021

    • The Amendment Bill, 2021 amends Section 8 of the Rajasthan Compulsory Registration of Marriages Act, 2009.
      • Section 8 deals withDuty to submit Memorandum”. 
      • The Act itself defines Memorandum as the Memorandum for registration of marriage.”
    • Prior to the amendment, Section 8 read: 
      • (1)“The parties, or in case the parties have not completed the age of 21 years, the parents or as the case may be, guardian of the parties, 
        • shall be responsible to submit the memorandum 
        • within a period of 30 days from the date of solemnization of the marriage 
        • to the Registrar within whose jurisdiction the marriage is solemnized or both or any of the parties resides.
      • (2) A memorandum, which is not submitted within the time limit specified in sub-section (1), may be submitted at any time on payment of penalty as may be prescribed.”
    • After the amendment, which changes a key aspect in the age prescribed, Section 8 now reads: 
      • “The parties to the marriage, or 
        • in case the bridegroom has not completed the age of 21 years and/or the bride has not completed the age of 18 years, the parents or, as the case may be, guardian of the parties 
        • shall be responsible to submit the memorandum, in such manner, as may be prescribed, 
        • within a period of 30 days from the date of solemnization of the marriage 
        • to the Registrar within whose jurisdiction 
          • the marriage is solemnized, or 
          • the parties to the marriage or either of them are residing for at least 30 days before the date of submission of the memorandum.”
      • Sub-section 2 has been amended to permit eligible parties- even if one or both are deceased– to submit the memorandum.
    • In a nutshell, it amended the 2009 law on mandatory registration of marriages to include child marriages too.

    Rationale Behind the Amendment

    • The state government has termed the amendment a “technical” one and puts the following points in favour
      • Parity with Central Legislation:
        • The amendment would bring the age in line with central legislation which recognises the age of 18 as the majority for a girl and 21 for a boy. 
      • Faster Annulment of Child Marriage:
        • Registration of child marriages would help in their faster annulment.
      • Help to Child Widows:
        • It will also help the government reach out to more victims, particularly widows.

    Criticism of the Amendment

    • Compulsory Registration may legitimise Child Marriage:
      • Critics say compulsory registration of child marriage would legitimise it.
    • Hurdle in future Marriage Annulments:
      •  Activists have also said the marriage certificate might in fact, contrary to government claims, become a hurdle in getting an annulment later.
      • The courts could cite the lack of a marriage certificate as a reason to not grant an annulment.
    • Registration mandatory even in Previous Act:
      • So there is no actual change in act except for an explicit mention of ages of bride and grooms.

    Legality and Registration of Child Marriage: Prohibition of Child Marriage Act

    • Child Marriages are not Illegal:
      • Child marriages are not illegal per se, although there is a legal framework to prevent them.
    • Prohibition of Child Marriage Act gives only a rollback option:
      • The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, allows a child marriage to be annulled by either the bride or the groom who was a minor at the time of marriage when they attain the age of majority.
      • So essentially, it gives them an option to roll back the marriage as if it never happened. 
    • No Annulment if both want to honour marriage:
      • If the parties do not wish to annul the marriage, it would be considered a legitimate marriage. 
      • This shield is given to essentially ensure the rights of minor girls in access to the marital home, marital property and ensure the legitimacy of offspring.
    • Few Exceptions:
      • Child marriages under certain conditions however are considered void automatically.
        • This could be where the minor is forced, kidnapped for marriage, or is married for the purpose of human trafficking.

    How does the law strive to prevent child marriage?

    • Under Section 9, Prohibition of the Child Marriage Act
      • male adults shall be punished with imprisonment up to 2 years and/or a fine of Rs 1 lakh for marrying a minor girl. 
    • Under Section 10 
      • “Whoever performs, conducts, directs or abets any child marriage shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment 
        • which may extend to 2 years and shall be liable to fine which may extend to 1 lakh rupees 
        • unless he proves that he had reasons to believe that the marriage was not a child marriage.” 
    • This enables the police to arrest not just the adult groom or parents facilitating a child marriage, but anyone who participates in solemnising such a marriage.

    Judicial Verdicts regarding Child Marriage 

    • Independent Thought v Union of India (2017): Marital Rape in Child Marriage
      • In this case, the SC refused to extend the protection of marital rape to child marriages. 
      • The court held that intercourse with a minor girl, even under marriage, would amount to rape.
      • While marital rape is not punished under the law, intercourse with a minor is considered rape.
    • Seema vs Ashwini Kumar (2006): Registration of Marriage
      • The Supreme Court ruled that registration of marriage must be made compulsory.
      • Some states such as Karnataka and Uttarakhand have similar provisions for registering and recording child marriages.
    • Kerala HC judgement, 2019
      • In 2019, the Kerala High Court also ruled that there is no bar in the law to register a child marriage, upholding a 2008 government circular framing rules for such registration.

    Conclusion and Way ahead

    • The arguments above clarify that neither registration nor present Prohibition of the Child Marriage Act prohibits child marriage.
    • To amend the legislation along with creating awareness is the need of time.
    • There are many socio-economic benefits of late marriage that must be conveyed to the masses.

    Source: IE