National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) member Mrs. Jyotika Kalra said that a law needs to be put in place to make the age of marriage for both the boys and girls uniform in tune with the expressions to this effect at highest levels, including from the Supreme Court as well as the Law Commission of India.
Delivering presidential address at a two day’s ‘National Conference on Child Marriage’ in collaboration with the South Asia Initiative to End Violence against Children (SAIEVAC) in New Delhi today, she pointed out that it should not be 21 years for the boys and 18 years for the marriage of girls as there is no scientific data to support this difference in their ages.
She suggested that the inconsistencies in different legal provisions, having a bearing on children and their marriage, need to be identified and synergized to end child marriage in India.
The NHRC Member also said that the registration of marriages should be made compulsory. The Supreme Court as well as the Law Commission has already pointed out this, but it is not clear whether all the states have put in place the necessary rules to this effect. She pointed out that in India, the child marriage also has to do with the socio-economic factors and the lack of literacy, particularly, among the lower strata of society, wherein some celebrate the birth of a heifer more than that of a bull calf unlike the birth of a female and a male child.
For instance, Mrs Kalra said that as per Indian Penal Code, 12 year old child bride can suffer “assault” on her by her 29 year old husband, in order to establish his marital rights. If wife is below 15, then the husband can be charged for the offence of rape.
However, here also the law makes a distinction between a wife below 12 and a wife over 12. Under Section 376 when the wife is below 12, the penalty is imprisonment which shall not be less than seven years but which may be for life or for a term which may extend to 10 years and fine. If, however, the wife is above 12 but below 15, the punishment is milder i.e imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years or fine or both.
Earlier, Mr. Ambuj Sharma, the Secretary- General, NHRC, addressing the gathering, said that it is a matter of shame that the rate of child marriage still remains very high though the national average of child marriage for females is down from 47.4% to 26.8% and for males from 32.3% to 20.3% respectively.