In this case, a 16-year-old Muslim girl child was taken in for care by the Social Welfare Department on the grounds that her parents were arranging her marriage, which given her age was contrary to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 (the “Prohibition of Child Marriage Act”).
The petitioner sought the return of the child and issuance of a writ of mandamus, preventing the respondents from interfering with any marriage permitted by the Muslim Personal Law. Personal laws are intended to reflect specific religious ideology and apply only to members of the respective religious group. Under Muslim Personal law, a girl is permitted to marry when she attains puberty or after the age of 15 years without parental consent. The minimum age for marriage under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 (“Child Marriage Act”) is 18 years for a girl. The petitioner argued that the Child Marriage Act was improper and illegal and therefore should be deemed void insofar as Muslims were concerned due to the conflict with the Muslim Personal Law. As a result, the petitioner sought an order that the respondents would not interfere with any marriage solemnized under the Muslim Personal Law.
In an interim hearing, the Court heard that there was no complaint regarding her treatment at home or in the provision of food and shelter. The child was also willing to return to her parents. Her parents undertook not to perform the marriage prior to the final decision of the Court. As a result, the child was permitted to return home with her parents.
The Court held that the main issue involved in the writ petition related to the validity and the legal prohibition on marriage being performed for any Muslim girl below the age of 18 years, as a result of the Child Marriage Act. The Court recognized that the Child Marriage Act is aimed at enhancing the health of children and the status of women in society, and took into account the maturity of mind required to enter into marital life, as well as the right to proper education and empowerment. With these considerations in mind, the age limit was fixed for a girl at 18 years. In assessing the age for marriage, the Court recognized act’s “laudable object,” which is primarily focused on the welfare of the bride and bridegroom.
With these considerations in mind, the Court held that marriage for a girl below the age of 18 did not constitute a religious right under Articles 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution. Therefore, the Court assessed whether performing a marriage for a girl under age 18 would advance her welfare, and ultimately held that such marriages do not advance the welfare or interests of the child. The Court reasoned that the Child Marriage Act enabled girls, including Muslim girls, to get a proper education, be empowered, and have the opportunity to “lead a proper marital life like other girls,” and that this cannot be considered as an act against the Muslim community in general. The Court highlighted that providing education and empowerment strengthened society, which would not be detrimental to any religion.
The Court therefore held that the provisions of the Child Marriage Act did not violate the religious rights in Articles 25 and 29 of the Constitution and advanced girl children’s access to proper education, empowerment, and equal status with men, as guaranteed under Articles 14 (equality before the law), 15 (prohibition of discrimination), 16 (equality of opportunity in public employment) and 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) of the Constitution. As a result, the writ petition was dismissed.