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Rajasthan bill on marriage registration sparks row: Here’s why

The proposed law, the Rajasthan Compulsory Registration of Marriages (Amendment) Bill, 2021, passed on 17 September amends a 2009 act

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Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on 11 October said his government would ask Governor to return the amendment bill on mandatory registration of marriages, passed by the State Assembly last month.

The proposed law, the Rajasthan Compulsory Registration of Marriages (Amendment) Bill, 2021, passed on 17 September amends a 2009 act bearing the same name that regulates the registration of marriages, including child marriages, shocking observers who see it as regression.

“We are getting it examined by the Law Department and will request the Governor to send the law we have passed back to us. We’ll get it examined, and after that, we’ll move it forward, if needed,” Gehlot said at an event in Jaipur to mark International Day of the Girl Child.

Among other things, the proposed amendment to Section 8 of the 2009 Act regarding the “ to submit Memorandum” for registration of marriages has sparked an uproar.

The 2021 amendment states that the parents or guardians of a bridegroom under 21 and a bride under 18 “shall be responsible to submit the memorandum, in such manner, as may be prescribed, within a period of thirty days from the date of solemnisation of the marriage to the Registrar.”

The 2009 Act said the same, with the only difference being that the age mentioned was 21 years for both boys and girls.

The Gehlot-led Indian National Congress (INC) government said that by changing the age, it intended to bring it in line with the Union government’s legislation, which recognises 18 years as the majority age for a girl and 21 years for a boy. The government said that the registration of child marriages would help in faster identification of victims and annulment.

The Gehlot government has come under attack over the amendment from the BJP-led Opposition, civil society, women’s organisations and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), who allege that it legitimises child marriage.

The critics allege that the government has tried to give registered recognition to child marriage, which is a cognisable offence.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot insisted that the bill wasn’t a matter of prestige for his government and the amendment was brought in keeping in view a Supreme Court order that all marriages should be registered.

“If someone is married off as a child and then they become adults and have children, and if there is property or legacy of the parents or grandparents, then there shouldn’t be an obstruction. So, the Supreme Court had said that be it anyone who gets married, registration is important. In line with that sentiment, a law was passed here and a nationwide controversy erupted that this law will promote child marriage,” Gehlot said.

In February 2006, the Supreme Court, in the Seema vs Ashwani Kumar case, had observed that marriages of all persons who are citizens of India belonging to various religions should be registered compulsorily in the respective states where the marriage is solemnised.

In 2012, a bill was tabled in Parliament based on the top court’s observations. The bill proposed to amend the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969, to provide for compulsory registration of marriages, irrespective of religious denomination. Passed by the in July 2013, the bill, however, could not be taken up for consideration in the Lok Sabha. It eventually lapsed on the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014.

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