Child marriage act read incorrectly, says Supreme Court
A bench of justices MM Shantanagoudar and Aniruddha Bose, in a recently delivered verdict, held that punishing the male for such a marital union on grounds that it amounts to child marriage is against the “legislative history” of the law.Updated: Nov 23, 2019 02:20 IST
The Supreme Court has held that a provision of the child marriage law that punishes a man aged between 18 and 21 years for marrying an adult woman is not a correct interpretation of the law.
A bench of justices MM Shantanagoudar and Aniruddha Bose, in a recently delivered verdict, held that punishing the male for such a marital union on grounds that it amounts to child marriage is against the “legislative history” of the law.
The court verdict has held that the legislative intent was to punish men who married minor girls. Although both men and women are deemed to be adults at the age of 18 under other laws, a differential metric has been adopted in the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act ,2006, which says a man has to attain the age of 21 to be considered an adult.
A higher age is prescribed for men based on the prevailing societal notions that the age of 18 is insufficient for a boy to attain the desired level of education and economic independence for marriage. The law says that child marriage means a marriage in which either of the contracting parties is a child.
Thus, even if the husband is between 18-21 years of age, the law treats it as a child marriage and punishes the male. Section 9 of Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 says: “Whoever, being a male adult above 18 years of age, contracts a child marriage shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment which may extend to two years or with fine or with both.”
The Supreme Court has held that this anomaly had occurred due to the courts literally interpreting section 9 of the Act. It said that a literal interpretation would mean that “if a male aged between 18-21 years contracts marriage with a female above 18 years, it is the male who would be punished for contracting a child marriage.”
“We are of the view that such an interpretation goes against the object of the Act. Nowhere from the discussions can it be gleaned that the legislators sought to punish a male between the age of 18-21 years who contracts into a marriage with a female adult,” the court held. The court added: “We do not wish to comment on the desirability of maintaining the aforesaid distinction in culpability. However, the context in which this distinction was considered appropriate must be taken into account.”
Supreme Court advocate Rishi Malhotra said the interpretation will go a long way in dealing with the problem of men in the 18-21 year age group being punished for marriage with a woman.