Mumbai: The Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) has called for reforms that will ensure a Muslim woman’s rights within her marital and maternal family, before, during and after her marriage.
Zakia Soman of the BMMA said that the Supreme Court (SC) has agreed to entertain a sensitive socio-religious issue related to the sanctification of the marriage of a minor girl on her attaining puberty by Muslim personal law. It has also annulled the Punjab and Haryana High Court verdicts that validated the marriage of a 15-year-old Muslim girl.
“We demand that all laws related to child marriage, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA), 2006, or the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act must be made unambiguously and explicitly applicable to the Muslim community so that Muslim women and girls are able to take advantage of the law of the land,” Ms Soman said.
The PCMA, though a national law applicable to all citizens, is still not made applicable to the Muslim community. The SC has not given an authoritative verdict on the same although the judgment of 2017 does say that PCMA is a secular law applicable to all. There are some HCs (Punjab and Haryana) that have said that personal laws could override the PCMA and while other HCs (Gujarat and Karnataka) say PCMA will prevail over personal laws.
“The Quran is not in favour of child marriage whereas the shariah understanding is that the time of puberty (15 years) is the age for marriage. The purpose of marriage in Islam is to create a successful union that promotes love, tranquillity and mercy between husband and wife, which contributes to the health of society. Hence one of the main condition of marriage is free and informed consent of both the spouses,” Ms Soman said, adding that the Quran does not provide a specific age of marriage, but states that the guardian of orphans manage their inheritance until they become fit for marriage and are of sound judgment to manage their own property.
According to Ms Soman, there is a direct link between the ability to manage property and marriage, to the age at which maturity to do both is reached. “A marriage is a contract in Islam and a contract can only be entered into by two adults at the age specified by the law of the land,” she said.
A BMMA study called ‘Seeking Justice Within Family’ shows that 75.5% of the 4,710 respondents wanted girls to be married above the age of 18, while 88% wanted boys to be married above the age of 21. “Of the total respondents, we found that 55% were married before the age of 18, of which 15% were below the age of 15,” Ms Soman revealed.
The draft National Policy for Women (2016) needs to make PCMA applicable to the Muslim community as well. The National Policy for Children (2013) does not even take child marriage into consideration. This policy statement must be amended to mention child marriage and its impact on the child’s overall development. It must also mention that the laws related to children, specifically PCMA, 2006 with regard to the Muslim community.