Centre favours declaring child marriage as void, SC told

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New Delhi, Feb 8 (PTI) The Centre today told theSupreme Court that it was in favour of declaring as illegalchild marriage which has been held as valid by courts inseveral cases, despite it being an offence.

The government said that under the present law despitebeing an offence child marriage is "valid" and can be declaredillegal only when the minor can repudiate the marriage byapproaching the court.

Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising submittedthat in order to curb child marriage it is necessary that itshould be declared illegal as suggested by a Law Commissionreport.

Under the Prohibition of Child Marriages Act, whoeverperforms, conducts, directs or abets any child marriage ispunishable with rigorous imprisonment up to two years and finewhich may extend to one lakh rupees.

The Act says that child marriage can be declaredillegal only at the option of contracting party being a child.

Relying on the provision of the Act, different HighCourts have declared marriages involving minors as valid.

The ASG submitted before a bench of justices DalveerBhandhari and Ashok Kumar Ganguli, that "In group cases fromAndhra Pradesh and Delhi, the High Courts had observed thatsuch marriages are neither void nor voidable if a womanappears before the court and makes statements that she hasvoluntarily married the man."

"It has enabled a man who marries a girl below the ageof 18 to plead in his defence that he entered into a validmarriage. Declaring marriage void below the age of 16 to 18may address this issue," she said.

The court also expressed concern that child marriageis still prevalent in the country and such marriages areperformed in the presence of law enforcement authorities.

"Hundreds of such marriages are taking place. Many ofthem are performed in the presence of public authorityincluding ministers. Such marriages are publicised and theauthorities are aware of it," the court said.

The bench made the remarks while dealing with theNational Commission for Women''s petition challenging HighCourts'' order for declaring child marriage as valid.

Advocate Aparna Bhat, appearing for the Commission,drew the bench''s attention to a Delhi High Court judgementwhich held valid a 15-year-old Muslim girl''s marriage with anelderly man on the ground that the girl has reached the age ofpuberty. (More) PTI AAC RB RKS

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