The controversy over a new state law pertaining to the registration of marriages is roiling Rajasthan. While the Congress-led government has said there was nothing new but a technical change made to an older piece of legislation, the opposition is convinced it validates the social evil of child marriage.
The Rajasthan Compulsory Registration Of Marriages (Amendment) Bill passed by the state Assembly on Friday tweaked Section 8 of a 2009 Act. This clause now states that "if the bride is under 18 and the bridegroom is under 21", their parents must register the marriage within 30 days of the event. In the 2009 version, the age criterion was 21 years for both.
The opposition had staged a walkout from the Assembly over the change.
"By amending the marriage registration Act, they have opened the floodgates by saying that if the bride is below 18 and the groom below 21, their marriage can be registered by just application," said Rajendra Rathore, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Rajasthan Assembly.
"This will increase and give validation to what is a social evil. How can the government do it?"
Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot's government, however, said the Opposition was completely misinterpreting the amendment.
Besides the fact that the Supreme Court has ruled in 2006 saying all marriages, including those involving underage persons, must be registered, it says entering the ritual in a public record makes it easier to act against child marriages since documentary evidence is now made available.
The government insists there is no "validation" involved whatsoever. District collectors have powers to act against the social evil and the latest amendment, it says, safeguards the minors' interests, especially in cases where the girl is widowed.
On the floor of the House, state Law Minister Shanti Dhariwal said, "Marriage certificate is a legal document in the absence of which a widow won't receive the benefits of any government scheme."
The number of underage marriages has been declining in Rajasthan, according to the National Family Health Survey Data of 2015-2016. The state had introduced the Child Marriage Prohibition Act in 2006.