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Child marriage storm brews within board

Bhopal, April 30: After ushering in a new era for Muslim women through the model nikaahnama, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board now faces a deadlock over another thorny issue: consenting age of girls for marriage.

Late tonight, the model nikaahnama was cleared, doing away with the dreaded triple talaq and making it mandatory for a couple to seek arbitration in case of marital discord. Divorce can no longer be unilateral and will require the qazi's sanction.

As the decade-long struggle against instant talaq ended, another issue has moved to centre stage. Conservatives want the board to oppose the Prevention of Child Marriage Bill, 2004. The bill, introduced in the Rajya Sabha, provides for declaring such a marriage void on an application by the bride or the groom if they are below 18 and 21, respectively. It, however, seeks to protect the rights of the girl by making it mandatory for courts to order maintenance to be paid to her till she remarries.

Board secretary Abdul Raheem Qureshi today said according to the Shariat, a girl could get married after attaining puberty.

'In my personal opinion, the girl's age of marriage should be 15 years,' he said.

It is learnt that there are sharp divisions within the board over taking a formal stand. 'It is not that the board wants the government to lower the age,' said legal eagle Yusuf Hatim Muchala.

'We view it as a social problem cutting across all religions and sects. The socio-economic conditions are also responsible. Therefore, we feel a law alone cannot eradicate the social ill.'

Conservatives view the bill as an 'interference' in Muslim personal law. 'In our country, the permissible age of girls getting married used to be 15 before it was raised to 18,' Qureshi said.

Board chief Maulana Rabey Nadvi, however, advocates a 'middle-path' and is of the view that the government and society should launch persuasive campaigns against underage marriages.

Recently, the Supreme Court had directed collectors and police superintendents to prevent child marriages that take place in most states during Akshay Tritiya on May 11. The day is popularly called 'mother of all wedding dates'.

The directive came on a petition by an NGO that sought action against officials failing to prevent child marriages. Appearing for the Centre, solicitor general G.E. Vahanvati said the 2004 bill intends to replace the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929.

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