Is the plague of forced marriages still existing to cover the holy union of consensual marriages?
Marriage, in its essence, is a pious social institution that allows a couple to live in a society as a husband and wife while performing all the legal obligations and cherishing the benefits of a legally registered marriage.
From a legal perspective, the right to marry is considered a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. However, under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right to marriage is granted in Article 16.
Recognition of marriage in our Indian Constitution and Universal Declaration of Human Rights reflects the importance of marriage, which is not limited to India but has also been backed by International Agreements having worldwide acknowledgement.
However, even after being identified as a fundamental right, India faces the curse of forced marriage performed under the garb of several unjustified reasons making it a clear violation of rights.
What is a Forced Marriage?
Consent is an essential requisite of marriage as it is a contract, and consent is of utmost importance for a contract to be valid. However, lack of consent and being forced to enter into the institution of marriage using different facets of abuse is known as forced marriage. Blackmailing, psychological coercion, financial abuse, and physical violence are how either or both parties are forced to get married.
It is pertinent to note that women and children are usually the targets of such marriages, even after several stringent laws. India has become a home to the world’s one-third portion of performing child marriages, and such instances are prevailing extensively in the northern states of India, such as Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.
Reason for Performing Forced Marriage
There could be multiple reasons for forced marriages; the most prevalent is poverty. It becomes easy for a party to persuade another party by providing them with financial support and lessening the economic burden.
Families that are financially challenged find it bliss if their daughters are getting married with no or less dowry, irrespective of their age, which most of the time makes the women target of abuse in the form of sexual and physical violence.
Apart from the above reason, fear of violence, securing a bright future, and a family’s reputation are the grounds based on which either party is being forced to marry.
Laws Related to Marriage
Apart from being legally recognised as a fundamental right as per Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, marriage is a legally binding contract. Forcing someone to marry violates the basic right envisaged by the Constitution under the title of the right to life. Forced marriages make the marriage contract illegal or voidable at the option of the party being forced, as per Section 15 of the Indian Contract Act.
Indian Legislature has ensured passing appropriate statutes for protecting the rights being breached, and aside from that International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights has also recognised marriage with free and full consent of either spouse under Article 23.
There is a well-structured legislature in India by the title of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. So, Section 366 of IPC states that kidnapping or abduction of a woman with the intent to compel her to marry any person against her will or for forced or seduced illicit intercourse. The person involved shall be punished with imprisonment of description for a period which may extend to ten years and shall also be liable to a fine.
Apart from the laws mentioned above, there are several other laws against forced marriage in India that a person can take recourse to, such as the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, Majority Act 1875 and Family Courts Act, 1984.
Role of the Judiciary in Forced Marriage
The judiciary performs a crucial role in ensuring legal parity, the determination of disputes, and the protection of rights and liberties. While upholding the rule of law, the judiciary is the defining factor regarding equality, legality, and respect for human rights.
Accordingly, in the domain of forcible marriages, the judiciary has performed a critical role in determining parties’ rights while obligating the essential human rights of equality.
Various important rulings in terms of law against forced marriage in India have been given by the judiciary to date, as mentioned below;
- Validity of marriage exists only when there is free and full consent of the parties, and in the absence of it, either of the parties can file a suit.
- Gender violence and violation of human rights come into sight if performed forcible marriage.
- Coercion is the terminology as per Section 15 of the Indian Contract Act for marriages performed forcefully.
Forced marriage still exists as a curse for India, even after experiencing massive progress in every domain. There are several legal actions that one can perform while facing forcible marriage:
- Contact local police
- File for domestic violence case against the member of the family forcing for marriage.
- Contact a lawyer to file the complaint against the appropriate authority.
- Can file a suit for a marriage annulment if the marriage has already been performed.
Though marriage in India has been given a special status in our society through which two parties enter into an institution while protecting the well-being of each other, however, forcing the parties against will, destroys the essence of marriage and can lead to several repercussions on the well-being and peace of the parties as well as families.