CAIRO - In an effort to calm Muslim anger over underage marriages, the Indian government has pledged to amend a circular allowing the registration of marriages below the minimum age limit.
It was not intended to provide a blanket approval for all underage marriages, a source in the Local Self Government (LSG) department told The Times of India on Sunday, June 23.The real purpose was to help couples who hadn't met the legitimate age bar at the time of marriage and later denied registration of their marriages.
Last week, the government issued a circular allowing the registration of marriages under the minimum age limit.
The circular allows officials to register marriages between Muslim boys under the age of 21 and girls below the age of 18.
It, however, stipulates the approval of parents to register the marriage and if both the boys and girls are above the age of 16.
The current age limit to register Muslim marriages is 18 years old for girls and 21 years for boys.
But Muslim leaders have criticized the circular for allowing underage marriages in the sizable minority.
But the government argues that the Muslim Marriage Act of 1957 does not prescribe 21-year minimum age for men and 18 years for women.
"They were married under the provisions of Muslim Marriage Act of 1957 which had mandated the minimum age as 16 years only," the LSG source said.
Their marriage had the consent and approval of families concerned and religious institutions.
The source defended the circular as aiming to facilitate the registration of marriages that have been already solemnized.
Children of such couples face problems when they apply for passport and other documents for want of marriage certificate of parents, Minister M K Muneer said.
We were only trying to help them.
Opponents say that the circular give way for underage marriages among Muslims.
It may be a conscious effort to legalize future marriages or else they would have given a specific time period, social critic Hameed Chennamangaloor told The New Indian Express.
After the strict enacting of legislation banning child marriage, the Muslim community witnessed good progress.
The new decision is communal and will hit the socio- economic development of the community, he warned.
The government is planning to hold a high-level meeting in the coming days to hammer out a new notification about marriage age.
Minister Muneer said the new circular will advise registers to initiate action against parents who encourage marriage of minor girls.
"There will be strict measures against them. Legal action under the Child Marriage Prohibition Act would be initiated, he said.
Muslims account for 160 million of India's 1.1 billion people, the world's third-largest Muslim population after those of Indonesia and Pakistan.
Marriage in Islam is of utmost importance as it is upon the lawful union of a man and a woman that society grows strong and that moral is preserved.
In Islam, it is not permissible for the guardian to compel the one under his guardianship to marry someone she does not desire to marry.Rather, it is necessary to seek her consent and permission.