NEW DELHI: A Uniform Civil Code (UCC) for the country can wait but the Law Commission has suggested that the legal age for marriage for both men and women across religions should be fixed at 18 years, the universal age for majority.
“If a universal age for majority is recognised, and that grants all citizens the right to choose their governments, surely, they must then be also considered capable of choosing their spouses. For equality in the true sense, the insistence on recognising different ages of marriage between consenting adults must be abolished,” the law panel said in a consultation paper on reforms in personal laws released on Friday. The age of majority is 18 years.
Amending personal laws on these lines would prevent child marriages and remove inequality, the panel said, adding gender-based discrepancy in determining majority — of 18 years for girls and 21 years for boys — contributed to the stereotype wives must be younger than their husbands.
The panel said while Hindu law recognised the marriage between a 16-year-old girl and an 18-year-old boy as valid but voidable, the Muslim law in India recognised the marriage of a minor who had attained puberty as valid.
Pointing out divergences in laws, the panels said the Special Marriage Act, 1954, prescribed 18 years and 21 years as the legal minimum for women and men respectively. Yet, under Section 11 and 12, marriages where one or more parties did not meet the legal minimum age were neither void nor voidable.
Such violations merely attracted fines. However, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, deemed a marriage where one or more parties were minor as voidable.
Likewise, laws on guardianship recognised husband as the guardian of the wife — minor or major — a provision which raised complications where the husband also happened to be a minor. “The question then arises, that when it comes to compulsory registration of marriage, should the law encourage this tacit compliance of child marriage by allowing these valid marriages under various personal laws to get registered, or should the law not register these marriages which may amount to turning a blind eye allowing the activity to continue unregulated,” the paper said.
Under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1972, Section 3 provides that at the time of termination of pregnancy, the husband’s consent is required if the wife is a minor. The law panel said where the husband himself was a minor, the consent from him stood vitiated. “All these laws operate on the belief that child marriage is a reality and thus the existing laws must be updated,” it said.