Rajasthan's Amended Bill to Register Marriages Includes 'Registration of Child Marriages'

While the Opposition BJP said the Bill will legitimise child marriages, the ruling Congress stated that the Bill does not say that child marriage is valid, and the district collector can take action, if he wants.

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New Delhi: The Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Friday charged that the Rajasthan Compulsory Registration of Marriages (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which was passed in the state assembly by voice vote to amend a 2009 Act on mandatory registration of marriages within 30 days of the union, will legitimise child marriages.

The Opposition also staged a walkout despite parliamentary affairs minister Shanti Kumar Dhariwal defending the Bill by saying that Dhariwal said that the registration of child marriage does not mean giving validity to it. He also assured that that action will be taken against those who organise child marriages even after registering it.

The minister also told the House that the Supreme Court in its 2006 judgment in Seema vs Ashwini Kumar had directed that registration of all types of marriages should be made mandatory. He said registration of child marriages is not meant to legitimise them and insisted that if a minor is married, then upon becoming major he or she will have the right to annul the marriage.

The Bill covers the issue of child marriage by stating that a marriage between a bridegroom who has not completed 21 years and a bride who has not completed 18 years of age could be registered by the parents or guardians within 30 days of the marriage.

It also lays down that the bride and groom can apply for registration to the marriage registration officer of the place where they had been residing for over 30 days.

As the Opposition opposed the Bill saying it would legitimise child marriage, parliamentary affairs minister Shanti Kumar Dhariwal defended the legislation saying, “the Bill does not say that child marriage is valid. The Bill says that after marriage, only registration is necessary. It does not imply that child marriage is valid. If the district collector wants, he or she can still take action against the child marriages.”

The minister also added that “this amendment is not in contradiction to the central law”. He pointed out that “the Supreme Court has also ruled that there should be compulsory registration of marriages. Hence, the Bill includes child marriages.”

Furthermore, Dhariwal said the legislation would now allow registration to be done at the level of District Marriage Registration Officer as well as Additional District Marriage Registration Officer and Block Marriage Registration Officer level. He said “these officers will be able to monitor and review the work of registration. This will make it easier for the general public to register. This will bring simplicity and transparency to the work.”

He also contended that the marriage registration certificate was a legal document and without it widows were not able to get the benefits of many schemes. With the compulsory registration, he said, either party or both parties in the marriage will be able to apply for marriage registration and get the certificate.

Also read: Rise in Child Marriages in the Lockdown: How the Centre Ignored Data of Its Own Nodal Agency

On behalf of the BJP, which also staged a walkout over its opposition to the Bill, leader of Opposition Gulab Chand Kataria alleged that the legislation violated the law against child marriages. “I think this law is completely wrong. The legislators who have passed it have not seen it. Section 8 of the Bill violates the present law in force against child marriages,” he said.

Ram Lal Sharma, a BJP leader told news agency ANI, “If child marriage is banned, then how can they include child marriage under this Bill? All this is done by Congress for vote bank politics.”

The deputy leader of Opposition Rajendra Rathod opposed the move saying, “I am surprised that (this happened) in Rajasthan, where child marriages are considered a regressive custom, and where, in 1927, the Sharda Act (Child Marriage Restraint Act) came into existence in Rajasthan. It was passed by Harvilas Sharda and it was replaced by the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, (but) today the numbers prove that Rajasthan is still in the hold of this regressive custom.”

Another legislator Sanyam Lodha charged that the legislation defended child marriages. He said: “Today, the majority of the people agree with this law and have mentally prepared themselves. They provide education to their students but they dislike the concept of child marriages. But if you justify child marriages like this, then it will create a wrong impression for the people. The Rajasthan Vidhan Sabha will be defamed”.