In a significant step, the Centre has submitted before the Supreme Court that it justifies an exemption in IPC section related to rape as per which a husband having sexual intercourse with his minor wife aged between 15 and 18 was not a crime.
The government cited the Protection of Children From Sexual Offences Act, 2012, (POCSO) and the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, and said married women of 15-18 age group, if aggrieved with their marriage, could seek protection under both these Acts, as they do not have similar exception like the Indian Penal Code.
The Centre, however, through its lawyer Binu Tamta, resisted the NGO’s plea. Tamta argued that child marriages were a reality in India and that “the institution of marriage must be protected. Otherwise, the children from such marriages will suffer.”
“Isn’t this an incentive for child marriage?” Justice Madan B. Lokur asked, on hearing Tamta’s defence.
The government claimed there are 23 million child brides in the country and reading down the exception to Section 375 would make the men involved more susceptible to persecution, at which Justice Deepak Gupta said, according to Hindustan Times, “This reflects badly on the government.”
The legal age for marriage in India is 18 for women and 21 for men. But while the number of underage brides in the country has declined by 0.3 per cent in rural areas since 2001, they have increased by 0.7 per cent in urban parts, said a report this year by the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights and the charity Young Lives.