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24 June 2013

Govt defends underage Muslim marriages

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Thiruvananthapuram: A circular issued by Local Self Government (LSG) department of the government of Kerala has, through a blatant misrepresentation of facts, sought to reassure unconvinced registrars across the state that Muslim marriages involving a male aged less than 21 and a female aged less than 18 is legal.

The circular says that such marriages should be registered in accordance with Kerala Marriages Registration Act, Section (9) 3, provided the involved parties produce a document duly certified by the concerned religious authority.

The circular says that such marriages should be registered in accordance with Kerala Marriages Registration Act.

The June 14, 2013, circular contends that The Child Marriage Prohibition Act, 2006, does not deem marriage between a male aged below 21 and a female aged below 18 null and void. This is a clear contradiction of this particular Act which unambiguously defines a "child as a person who, if a male, has not completed 21 years of age, and if a female, has not completed 18 years of age."

The circular also violates provisions in Special Marriage Act 1954. As per this Act, if a marriage has to be solemnized, the man has to be 21 years old and the woman must be 18 years of age. Both the Child Marriage Prohibition Act and Special Marriage Act are applicable to the whole of India except the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The June 14 government circular was issued following complaints from various parts of the state that registrars have been denying marriage certificates to Muslim girls and boys who got married at an age below 18 and 21 respectively. "The circular has been issued as a reminder to those registrars who have refused to register the marriages of Muslim girls who get married below 18. It has been introduced to clear certain confusion regarding the registration of Muslim marriages. The law department had analyzed it before the issuance of the circular," said James Varghese, principal secretary, LSG department.

Incidentally, and as the circular points out, Muslim Marriage Act, 1957, does not make it mandatory for a boy to be 21 years and girl to be 18 years at the time of marriage. "We had been receiving complaints from various panchayats that registrars wouldn't register the marriages of Muslim girls if they are aged below 18. Since Muslim Marriage Act allows such marriages, we asked for a clarification from LSG," said P P Balan, director of Kerala Institute of Local Administration.

Apart from the questionable legality of the circular there is also, as various scholars explained, the regressive society such decrees encourage. "This would come in the way of Muslim women's social advancement as marriage below the age of 18 would hamper their political and educational life besides thwarting their chances of getting a job," said M N Karassery, reputed Malayalam writer and critic. "We have to protest against the order and it should be challenged before a court of law," he added.

Also claiming that the circular smacks of "religious discrimination", Karassery said, "marriageable age should be the same for all women in the country, irrespective of their religion. But this order offers a different marriageable age for the women of a particular community."

(Courtesy: The Times of India)

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