Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Do Muslim girls want to marry at 16?

By John Cheeran

Getting married still remains a big deal in India. Kerala is no exception. These days a few Malayalis do not marry at all, but prefer to be in live-in relationships. But this is not about them.
It is about how girls are still pushed into marriage in Kerala much before they attain the age of 18, among Kerala’s Muslims, who constitute more than 25% of the state’s population. These are nothing but child marriages.
The Child Marriage Prohibition Act, 2006, 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.”
A circular issued on June 14, 2013, by Local Self Government (LSG) department of the government of Kerala has 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 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.
At the moment, a debate is on in Kerala about the intent and logic behind the Congress-led UDF government’s move to sanctify such child marriages among Muslims.
The LSG department is headed by an Indian Union Muslim League minister, M K Muneer, an MBBS doctor, who told The Times of India (the TOI led with the story on June 20 in Kerala which has triggered a state-wide debate, forcing rest of the newspapers and news channels to amplify the story) that he is personally against the move to encourage child marriages among Muslims.
But the government, harried by allegations against chief minister Oommen Chandy’s office of nexus with a set of financial fraudsters, is adamant and not ready to withdraw the circular. Muslim League has 20 MLAs in the assembly and the government runs on two-seat majority in the 140 member assembly.

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