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Prosecuting persons will not resolve issue of child marriages: SC

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NEW DELHI, July 10: Prosecuting persons involved in child marriages will not resolve the problem which has social dimensions, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday while reserving the verdict on a PIL over the alleged rise in underage weddings in the country.

Unimpressed by the Centre’s submissions that state-specific programmes like awareness campaigns and training are being undertaken, the top court said “These programmes, lectures do not really change things on the ground”.

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NGO ‘Society for Enlightenment and Voluntary Action’, in 2017, had filed the PIL in the top court alleging that the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act was not being enforced in “letter and spirit”.

A bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra heard submissions from the counsel of the petitioner NGO and Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for the Centre, before reserving the verdict.

“It is not about prosecution only. Prosecuting persons involved in child marriages will not resolve the problem as it has social dimensions,” the bench said and asked the counsel for both sides to give suggestions on a way forward to deal with the issue.

“We are not here to criticise anybody. This is a social issue,” the CJI said and asked the law officer to apprise as to what the government was doing on it.

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At the outset, the additional solicitor general informed the bench about the present status and said states like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra and Assam have witnessed more child marriage cases.

She said northeastern states, sans Assam, have hardly any such incidents.

Five states and UTs including Dadra Nagar Haveli, Mizoram and Nagaland have not reported any case of child marriage, she added.

The law officer referred to the data and said there was marked improvement in the last three years.

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She said out of 34 states and UTs, 29 have provided the data on child marriages.

There was no data available on convictions in child marriage cases, she said, adding, “That data is not here. We can get it. But please see, there is a lot of improvement. There is a 50 per cent reduction in cases of child marriages compared to 2005-06.”

“We have to work towards the wholesome education of young girls and women. That is how one-half of the population will be able to contribute as national builders and get out of this social evil,” the law officer said.

The court asked why officers like district magistrates and SDMs are being given the additional charge to act as child marriage prohibition officers.

The law officer said that these officers, being in a position of power in districts, are more equipped and empowered to deal with the issue of child marriages.

Earlier, the top court had directed the Ministry of Women and Child Development to file a status report detailing steps taken by it to execute the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act.

“The Union of India should also engage with the State governments in order to apprise the court on the compliance by states of the provision of Section 16(3) for the appointment of the child marriage Prohibition officer. Affidavit shall also clarify whether the officer so appointed or given other multifarious duties,” the court had said. (PTI)

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