On May 26, the Uttarakhand High Court asked the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) to respond within four weeks, to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking a ban on the marriage of minor Muslim girls. The Youth Bar Association of India moved the PIL before the court in 2022. The Division Bench, comprising Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Alok Kumar Verma, has listed the case for further hearing on August 25.
The Youth Bar Association of India argues that some courts are giving recognition to newly married couples despite getting married below the age of 18 and ordering police protection because Muslim Personal Law allows it.
The PIL argues that marriage below the age of 18 years, having physical relations with the minor girl and giving birth to children at an early age affects the health of the minor girl and the unborn children.
The PIL states, “Child marriage violates their rights and places them at high risk of violence, exploitation, and abuse. Child marriage ends childhood. It negatively influences the rights to education, health and protection which is guaranteed by the constitution of India to every citizen. These consequences impact not just the girl directly, but also her family and community…When a girl between the age of 15 to 18 years solemnizes the marriage, it does not mean that she is no longer a child or that she is mentally or physically capable of engaging in sexual activity and conjugal relations.”
Furthermore, the PIL argues that allowing the marriage of minor girls violates the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO), which intends to create a legal framework for protecting minor girls from sexual offences. The PIL also argues that action should be taken against under POCSO for having physical relations with a minor girl.
The PIL submitted that the marriage of girls below the age of maturity leads to their “exploitation” and, therefore, “there should be uniform law with regard to the age of marriage of the girls, irrespective of their religious believes.”
The PIL states, “Because the Muslim Personal Law allows a girl to get married at 15 years of age with her consent. The main question that arises here is “whether the consent is valid or not? As being a 15-year-old child, she is not mature enough to understand the after effects of marriage. Marriage comes with a lot of responsibilities which a child can never understand. Girls are treated as a baggage in our society and it is the harsh reality. The parents think that getting a girl married is the biggest responsibility on them. For the age of the girl is irrelevant they can easily influence their daughter to get married.”
The PIL further submits that the Parliament enacted the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, with the purpose of providing for the “prohibition of solemnization of child marriages and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.” The PIL further points out that the act applies to the whole of India, and all citizens of India whether in the country or abroad.
The court noted, “Though in the existing law there is no specific provisions prohibiting child marriages, punishment is prescribed for persons involved in the conduct of a child marriage,” in its order dated July 22, 2022.
It is pertinent to note that the Uttarakhand High Court, in its order dated October 11, 2022, noted that, “The issue raised in the present Public Interest Litigation is serious in nature, which we have taken note of in the order dated 22.07.2022.”