The Law Commission of India yesterday said that compulsory registration of marriage will help prevent fraud and protect women often denied the status of a wife due to the absence of matrimonial records.
In its report submitted to the Law Ministry, the panel said in the absence of compulsory registration, women are duped into marrying without performance of the conditions of a valid marriage.
"This deprives women of societal recognition and legal security. Such fraudulent marriages are especially on the rise among non-resident Indians (NRIs). Compulsory registration can serve as a means to ensure that conditions of a valid marriage have been performed," the report said.
The panel, which advises the Indian government on complex legal issues, said it is of the opinion that compulsory registration of marriages is a "necessary reform". It said a minor amendment to the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969 by including the provision of compulsory registration of marriage would serve the purpose. Registration is already mandatory in certain states and Union Territories. However, it clarified that the proposal wouldn’t impinge on any personal laws.
“Thus, while Bill does not aim at eliminating the diversity of personal laws, or regional differences seeking merely the registration of marriages regardless of the law under which the marriages are recognised or solemnised, it recommends that these various overlapping and contradicting legislations be borne in mind while framing the rules of registration,” said the report.
The report pointed out that the courts have repeatedly emphasised making registration of marriage compulsory to prevent denial of status to women and to children born out of wedlock.
Citing several fraud cases, the panel observed, “Instances of marriage fraud have also come to light in recent times. In the absence of compulsory registration, women are duped into marrying without the performance of the conditions of a valid marriage,” it said.
In 2006, the Supreme Court in a case - Seema vs Ashwani Kumar, had observed that marriages of all persons who are citizens of India belonging to various religions should be registered compulsorily in their respective states, where the marriage is solemnised.
The Uttar Pradesh government was the latest state to make marriage registration mandatory for all last month. Many states like Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Bihar, Rajasthan have already made marriage registration mandatory. There are also penalties for not adhering to the rule.
In 2012, a bill was tabled in Parliament based on the observations made by the Supreme Court. The bill was introduced to amend the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969, to provide for compulsory registration of marriages irrespective of religious denominations of the parties.
The amendment bill was passed by Rajya Sabha in July, 2013, but could not be taken up for consideration in the Lok Sabha. It lapsed on the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014.
The panel pointed out that in India, because of its size, population and the sheer diversity of customary forms of marriages, it has often been canvassed that such an endeavour to register all marriages would be difficult.
"However, the difficulty in implementation does not overshadow the merits of such an enactment. Once enacted, the amended law would enable better implementation of many other civil as well as criminal laws,” it said.