Rajasthan passes bill to register child marriages, minister says move does not mean wedlocks valid

In the debate, the Parliamentary Affairs Minister Shanti Dhariwal argued that registration of child marriages does not imply that they will be considered valid. 
For representative purpose only.
For representative purpose only.

JAIPUR: The registration of child marriages will now be allowed in Rajasthan, according to a bill passed by the state assembly on Friday. After a stormy debate, the House passed the Compulsory Registration of Marriages Amendment bill of Rajasthan.

Under this new bill, information on child marriage must be furnished within 30 days of the wedding. In the debate, the Parliamentary Affairs Minister Shanti Dhariwal argued that registration of child marriages does not imply that they will be considered valid. 

According to the new law, the marriage registration officer will do the registration up to the block level. The bill provides that if the girl's age at the time of marriage is less than 18 years and the boy's age is less than 21, then her parents will have to inform the registration officer within 30 days. 

In case of child marriages, the parents of boys and girls will inform the registration officer by giving a memorandum in the prescribed format. Based on this, the registration officer will register that child marriage. This provision has been made in Section 8 of the Compulsory Registration of Marriages Act. Earlier, there were marriage registration officers at the district level but now provision has been made in the bill up to the block level.

BJP MLAs staged a walkout from the House while questioning the need for registration and the purpose of the bill when child marriage would remain illegal. But the government claims that the bill has been brought on the basis of a Supreme Court order. The opposition raised questions on the need for the registration of child marriages and demanded the withdrawal of the bill.

Replying to the debate on the bill, Parliamentary Affairs Dhariwal said that the registration of child marriage does not mean giving validity and argued that registration of child marriages does not mean giving them legitimacy. Action will be taken against those who organise child marriages even after registering it. 

Dhariwal asserted that the Supreme Court, in a 2006 judgment in Seema vs Ashwini Kumar case, had directed that registration of all types of marriages should be mandatory. He argued that Registration of child marriages is not meant to legitimize them and said that if a minor is married, then s/he will have the right to annul it as soon as s/he attains majority. 

The opposition BJP however staged a walkout. The provision of registration of child marriage was opposed not only by BJP MLAs but also by pro-Congress Independent MLA Sanyam Lodha. Many BJP MLAs including Leader of Opposition Gulab Chand Kataria, Deputy Leader of Opposition Rajendra Rathod said that registering child marriages is like validating them and is a clear violation of the Sharda Act, the law to prevent child marriage.

Angry BJP MLAs then walked out of the House. Before the bill was passed, BJP demanded voting on it, but the chairman ignored it. The bill was passed by voice vote. 

Social activists have opposed this controversial bill. Dr. Kriti Bharti, the managing director of Saarthi Trust in Jodhpur, who has got dozens of child marriages annulled in recent years, says the bill reflects ‘the double standards of state government. When all the countries are trying to eradicate child marriages, the Rajasthan government is virtually making an effort to promote them. This is just to please the Jati Panches which are the vote banks for the part."

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