The Supreme Court on Thursday issued notices to the Ministry of Law and Justice and the National Commission for Women (NCW) on a petition seeking uniformity in the definition of 'child' and 'marriageable age' under various statutes and personal laws in the country.
Petitioner Manoj Sharma from Haryana, whose minor daughter (nearly 16-year-old) eloped to get married, highlighted the disparities in various legislations, particularly the Child Marriage Restraint Act, the Hindu Marriage Act, the definition of rape in the Indian Penal Code (IPC), Shariat Law and the Indian Divorce Act, dealing with the minimum age of marriage and definition of child.
Sharma has also challenged a Delhi high court order granting protection to the “husband.”
According to him, his daughter was abducted and lured by the man who is now facing kidnapping charges in Bhiwani district.
Sharma raised a question whether a person who marries a minor can be exonerated from kidnapping charges and sought to know if allowing sexual intercourse by a man with a girl as young as 15 contravenes the principles of the Juvenile Justice Act and the Child Marriage Restraint Act.
The petitioner contended that every Indian law has its own definition of a “Child.”
As per the Child Marriage Restraint Act, a child is a person, if a female, who has not completed 18 years, while in case of a male its 21 years.
Under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, a child means a person who has not attained the age of 16 years.
Sharma also pointed to the contradiction in the provision on rape under IPC. On one hand, section 375 states sexual intercourse of a man with his wife, not less than 15 years old, does not amount to rape, in the same breath, the law defines the consent age of a woman to be sixteen.
Similarly, while the Hindu Marriage Act suggests the age of a groom should be 21 and of a bride 18, it does not declare marriage of minors as illegal. Sharma has also criticised the judgment of a Delhi high court that upheld the validity of the marriage of two minors.
Similarly, the Andhra Pradesh high court had also declared a 13 year-old girl's marriage valid.