In what could revive the debate on a common civil code, the government is considering inserting a clause in the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 to make registration of marriages mandatory. But the provision does not find a place where it was actually needed — a proposed law to prevent child marriage that will apply to all communities.
In November last year, the Parliamentary Standing Committee of the Law Ministry had recommended that marriage registration be made mandatory under the Prevention of Child Marriage (PCM) Bill to address the scourge of child marriage that cannot be tackled effectively under the existing Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929. Registered marriages, it was argued, have elevated the socio-economic status of women in some states..
But the Law Ministry did not fully agree. In the PCM Bill circulated for Cabinet consideration, it excluded this recommendation while accepting the panel's other recommendations. Under the prevailing Restraint Act, a child marriage is a fait accompli and cannot be declared void.
The ministry argued that mandatory registration under the PCM Bill may not be legally tenable as many communities permit more than one marriage. But the Ministry of Women and Child Development insisted that it would not be possible to protect women's marital rights without mandatory marriage registrations.
Agreeing with the WCD Ministry's views to some extent, the Law Ministry has chosen to be selective and has moved to make registrations compulsory in marriages solemnized with Hindu rites. "As only one marriage is allowed under the Hindu Marriage Act, it would be easier to implement the provision," a source explained. Also, a Hindu marriage where the bride and the bridegroom are below the age of 18 and 21 can be declared void ab initio under the existing Act.
The government has also accepted the parliamentary committee's suggestion to amend the Hindu Marriage Act to incorporate penal provisions similar to those suggested in the PCM Bill.
The anti-child marriage bill -- likely to come up for Cabinet consideration in September -- will also have provisions for appointing officers to prevent child marriages, compensation to child marriage victims and defining the rights of children born out of such marriages. The offenders could be sent to jail for ten years if immoral trafficking is the objective behind child marriage.