Indian state faces backlash over law ‘encouraging child marriages’

Rajasthan’s government claims change is only a technical update, but opposition alleges controversial amendment allows child marriages

<p>File: India saw a 50% rise in child marriages in 2020, according to the country’s national crime data</p>

File: India saw a 50% rise in child marriages in 2020, according to the country’s national crime data

A new state law on registration of marriages has sparked a debate among parliamentarians and citizens in western India’s Rajasthan.

According to the new law, “if the bride is under 18 and the bridegroom is under 21”, their parents must register the marriage with state authorities within 30 days.

The Rajasthan Compulsory Registration Of Marriages (Amendment) Bill, which was cleared by lawmakers in the Rajasthan Assembly on Friday, amended a previous piece of legislation that had fixed the age of both the woman and the man at 21.

While the state government, led by the Indian National Congress party, has said the change is only a technical update, opposition members have alleged that it is a controversial amendment that allows child marriages.

The current minimum age for marriage in India is 21 for men and 18 for women.

The opposition party in the state — Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party — said the law paves the way for a social evil against teenage girls in the state. BJP leaders walked out of the Rajasthan Assembly on Friday after the bill was taken up for discussion to register their protest.

A BJP leader from Rajasthan said that the bill “permitting child marriages” will create a “black chapter” for the Indian state.

“Does this permit us to unanimously allow child marriages?” Ashok Lahoti, BJP leader and member of the legislative assembly, asked on Friday, according to news agency ANI. “The bill will write a black chapter in the history of the Assembly.”

Gulab Chand Kataria, the leader of opposition in the state administration, said the Congress government was repeating past mistakes with this law.

“Back then too, you had used the same words as now… you are authorising minor kids to get married,” Mr Kataria said, according to The Indian Express. “The only restriction is that their kin have to inform within 30 days.”

But the Congress party has rejected these charges.

Shanti Dhariwal, Congress’s parliamentary affairs minister in the western state, said: “You say that child marriages will be validated. Nowhere does this amendment say that child marriages will be validated.”

The state government added that recording the marriage officially will help the administration track it down and act against it, according to NDTV.

The new bill is for the welfare of women, Mr Dhariwal said, adding: “A marriage certificate is a legal document, in the absence of which a widow won’t receive the benefit of any government scheme.”

Some users on social media pointed out that this move may help bring attention to marriages between minors — which previously went unregistered and unnoticed by the government.

India saw a 50 per cent rise in child marriages in 2020, according to the country’s national crime data.

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