DELHI: A court in the country’s capital stirred up controversy when it said on Monday that marriage with an underage girl was permissible under Indian Law.

The city court in Delhi said that provisions of the the Protection of Children from Sexual Offence (POCSO) Act suggested that where a physical relationship is undertaken with a minor girl – which is neither sexual assault nor has consent been taken by unlawful means – no offence can said to have been committed.

According to a Times of India report, the court made these observations while acquitting a 22-year-old native of West Bengal of charges of kidnapping and raping a 15-year-old girl, with whom he had eloped and later married.

The court said that since the girl had accompanied the youth of her own will, obstacles should not be put to destroy their happily married life.

According to the prosecution’s report, the girl’s mother had filed a complaint with the police on March 5 about her daughter going missing since February 26.

The accused was arrested on March 6, and the girl was recovered from his custody.

In a statement recorded before the magistrate, the girl said that she had willingly accompanied the youth to Kolkata, where they married in a temple and have been living together ever since.

The accused backed her statement in court, stating that they had married in Kalkota but denied having any physical relations with her.

Rejecting a plea from the police and Delhi Commission for Women that the POCSO Act prohibits minors from being involved in any kind of sexual activity, Additional Sessions Judge (ASJ) Darmesh Sharma declared that such an interpretation would mean that the body is state property until the age of 18.

He also added that such an interpretation would mean that "no individual below 18 years can be allowed to have pleasures associated with one's body."

However, Sharma emphasised on the need to spread awareness about unsafe sex and early marriage, and urged authorities to ensure that minors learn of the risks involved.

The POCSO Act, which came into force on November 14, 2012, defines all those aged under 18 years as children.

Disclosing the name of the child in the media or to any third party is punishable by up to a year.

The Act moreover prohibits the use of children for pornographic purposes, with punishment for such an offence ranging from five years to seven years, with the implementation of a heavy fine.

The Act also prohibits child trafficking for sexual purposes.

Moreover, assistance of any kind with the offence is also considered punishable under the POCSO Act.

However, such a marriage would be considered in contravention to international law.

UNICEF defines child marriages as a formal marriage or reunion before the age of 18. UN Women, moreover, define child marriage as a forced marraige before 18 years of age, because they believe children under 18 are incapable of giving their consent.

  • compiled by Zohra Ahmed

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