Minor bride stands on a chair to garland groom
It is a child marriage function and a photo taken on the occasion rudely shocked the judges of the Supreme Court when they were hearing a case related to child marriages.
It is a minor girl from a norther part of India, not yet in teens, but has to garland a fully grown tall man, observed the Judges. It could be a forced marriage. Poverty, lack of education, backwardness, ignorance could be the reasons. In extreme anguish, the Court observed that such practices are a disgrace and it cannot be allowed.
While examining child marriages from many parts of India, the Court had occasions to look into such incidents that virtually shocked them.
The Karnataka government has by legislation declared child marriages illegal. Marriage of a girl below the age of 18 is void. The government decision followed an expert committee report, headed by Shivraj Patil, a former Judge of Supreme Court. In Karnataka, a man should have attained 21 for marriage.
The Court had occasions to peruse many survey reports done by Union Government as well as many other social organisations, relating to child marriage and child abuse. Of the marriages in the country, around 30 per cent brides are below 18 years. Every year several child marriages, the numbers running into crores, are reported in India, mostly in the norther part of the country,
For a girl to become a major, the age limit is 18. When male has sex with a minor girl, even with her consent, it is rape as per the penal code and liable to be punished by a court of law.
There is a law in India prohibiting child marriages, yet the different state government keeps its eyes shut without taking action against the offenders.
The fact that child marriage is an abhorrent practice and violative of human rights is not seriously disputed by the Union Government, observed the Supreme Court.
It is part of an age-old tradition and not to criminalise such actions, it was the view or stand of the Union Government. The Court was not at all impressed by such arguments.
There is a provision in the penal code that protects grooms from criminal cases even if the bride is a minor. The exception in the criminal code says that the groom cannot be charged for an offence of rape since he has been married.
The Supreme Court has ruled that such an exception is arbitrary and violative of human rights. It has been nullified by the Court. But how different state governments will deal with the Court ruling ?
It is for us to watch and see.