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Let boys marry at 18, says law panel

The Law Commission has proposed to reduce the minimum age of marriage for men from 21 to 18 years and to declare unions below the age of 16 as void, reports Satya Prakash.

india Updated: Feb 07, 2008 03:14 IST
Satya Prakash

The Law Commission on Wednesday recommended to the Government to bring in suitable changes in the existing laws to prohibit marriages of children below the age of 18.

Suggesting 18 years as a uniform age of marriage for both boys and girls, the Commission said that child marriages involving a girl or boy below the age of 16 should be void i.e. illegal. It said child marriages involving parties between 16 and 18 years should be voidable with an option to the minor to repudiate the marriage after he/she attains 20 years of age. At present under the Hindu Marriage Act (HMA), the marriageable age of girls is 18 while the same for boys is 21.

The recommendations form part of the Commission’s 205th report on The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 (PCMA) and other allied laws that by submitted by its Chairman Justice AR Lakshmanan to Law Minister HR Bhardwaj on Wednesday.

If the Government accepts the report and accordingly the existing laws dealing with child marriage are amended, for the first time in the history of India, a child marriage involving a bride or groom below the age of 16 will be illegal.

The present law i.e. the MHA and the PCMA do not have such provisions. Violation of the condition of age under the Hindu Marriage Act does not make the marriage void.

However, taking note of the possible difficulties faced by girls, the Commission recommended that the female would be entitled to maintenance under the PCMA till her remarriage in case of void marriages. Similarly, provisions relating to maintenance, child custody and legitimacy would be applicable to voidable marriages as they are at present.

In tune with the recent Supreme Court order, the Commission also recommended mandatory registration of marriages within a stipulated period, of all the communities – Hindus, Muslims, Christians etc.

On the age of marriage, it said “The age of marriage for both boys and girls should be 18 years as there is no scientific reason why this should be different.”

The Commission noted that “n spite of these legal provisions, child marriage is still widely practiced and a marriage solemnized in contravention of these (age) provisions was neither void nor viodable under the old child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, the Hindu Marriiage Act, 1955 and also under the Muslim Law.”

The issue of child marriage hit headlines after the high courts of Delhi and Andhra Paradesh upheld the validity of child marriages involving minor girls who had eloped with their respective lovers who were facing kidnapping and rape charges due to criminal cases filed by the girls’ parents.

This led to a huge controversy and the National Commission for Women and Delhi Commission for Women filed petitions before the Supreme Court highlighting the contradiction in the definition of “child” under various laws. The court had sought the Law Commission’s views which were sent to the court in December 2007.