Delhi High Court recognises Child Marriage as human rights violation
In a historic judgment on the issue of Child Marriage, division bench comprising of Mr. Justice A. K. Sikri and Mr. Justice Ajit Bharihoke held that the “child marriage is a violation of human rights, compromising the development of girls and often resulting in early pregnancy and social isolation, with little education and poor vocational training reinforcing the gendered nature of poverty”.
In the case filed by Association for Human Rights v Union of India and Others, the petitioner highlighted as to how a girl was sold, trafficked and married off to on “Yashpal” by her father. The incidence of the marriage of the minor girl was first found out by the members of Human Rights Law Network in February-March 2010. After exhausting all possible remedies to get the offenders booked for the offence of Child Marriage, the team members of HRLN and the Petitioner organisation decided to file a case in Delhi High Court. In the case, it was alleged that the Girl was not traceable and despite all efforts, the Police failed to trace the girl and to book the offenders for the offence of child marriage. The Petitioner, thus, filed a habeas corpus petition in Delhi High Court for a direction to the authorities to trace the girl and to bring the offenders to the book.
When the concerned Police Station failed to trace the girl after repeated orders of the Court, the Court transferred the case to the Crime Branch of Delhi Police. After this, the authorities came into action and traced and rescued the girl. They also lodged a formal complaint against the Father and the Husband of the Girl for offences under Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. The father and the husband were also arrested by the Police.
The Court then conducted in camera hearing of the case and also heard the Girl Child in person. After hearing her, the counsels of the parties, the Court passed the order. While discussing the evil of Child Marriage went into the sociological reasons for the prevalence of Child Marriage in the society. This case was a classic example, which proved the sociologists correct, the court observed.
The Court also observed that “Young married girls are a unique, though often invisible, group. Required to perform heavy amounts of domestic work, under pressure to demonstrate fertility, and responsible for raising children while still children themselves, married girls and child mothers face constrained decision making and reduced life choices. Boys are also affected by child marriage but the issue impacts girls in far larger numbers and with more intensity.” The Court, while underlining the medical and psychological effects over the girl child, further observed that “Where a girl lives with a man and takes on the role of caregiver for him, the assumption is often that she has become an adult woman, even if she has not yet reached the age of 18.”
As the issue, whether such marriages are void ab initio or not is under consideration before a larger bench, the Court refused to declare the marriage as void. However, differing from earlier orders, where the young wives were allowed to live with her husbands, the Court directed that the Girl Child will live with her parents till she attains the age of 18 years. The Court also took the undertaking of the parents of the girl, her husband and also of the mother of the husband that the marriage will not be consummated till she attains the age of 18. On attaining the age of 18, the girl can exercise the right to get her marriage annulled, as provided under Prohibition of Child Marriage Act. The Court made it clear that “it is the option of [the Girl] to accept this marriage or not. In case she does not accept this marriage, it shall be treated as null and void.”
I represented the Petitioner in this case.
You can see the judgment here.