The Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Balakrishnan said on Monday that it was not possible to declare child marriages void, as it would lead to several legal consequences.
The court’s reaction came after the counsel for National Commission for Women (NCW) said the Centre had failed to address the problem arising out of an exception clause provided in rape section of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
According to advocate Aparna Bhat, section 375 of the IPC says a man having sexual intercourse with his wife, who is not below 15 years, cannot be charged with rape. This, she argued, legalises child marriages. Bhat made her submissions while pointing to the lacunae in the newly implemented The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act.
Reacting to Bhat’s contention, the court said it has to protect the institution of marriage and declaring a child marriage null and void will have legal implications. “A child borne out of this marriage will then be called illegitimate. Society always wants to protect a marriage,” said the court. However, it has asked Bhat to file her response to the new Act.
During the proceedings, the government defended the new law preventing child marriages and said penal action can be initiated against a man, above 18 years, who contracts a child marriage.
Although the new law does not declare a child marriage null and void, the legislation definitely aims at stopping it, added Sharan. He said a child who is married could approach a district court and apply for declaring his or her marriage as void. Even when a child marriage is declared void by a court, law confers legitimacy on every child borne out of such wedlock. However, if a minor is enticed, sold or is married by any deceitful means, then such a wedding under the Act automatically becomes illegal.