New Delhi, Aug. 13: The Rajya Sabha today passed a bill that makes registration of marriages compulsory to shield wives against desertion, but rights activists were sceptical about its enforcement citing the absence of punishment and incentives.
The Registration of Births and Deaths (Amendment) Bill 2012, which had been pending for a year, will now go to the Lok Sabha for passage.
The existing act mandates compulsory registration of births and deaths; the amendment introduces the same requirement for marriages irrespective of religion.
Certain states now have their own marriage registration laws. Marriages registered under these state laws or any other law, such as the Anand Marriage Act 1909, will not have to be registered again.
The Supreme Court had in 2006 directed that all marriages must be registered. In 2007, the same recommendation came from the parliamentary committee for women’s empowerment in its report on the plight of abandoned NRI wives.
It said the government should make the registration process simpler, affordable and accessible. The 18th Law Commission supported the view.
The bill aims to protect poor and hapless women who are disowned by their husbands and are often denied justice in the absence of documented evidence of their marriage.
Union law minister Kapil Sibal said the marriage registration certificates would be treated as evidence in all matrimonial cases, such as those relating to maintenance, child custody and children’s inheritance and other rights.
Lawyer and human rights activist Rebecca John, however, is doubtful how far the new law, if passed, can be implemented on the ground.
“Do you think poor women will force their husbands to go and register their marriage at the registrar’s office? Poverty and disempowerment of women is so critical that they may not be interested in such a legal and bureaucratic procedure,” she said.
John suggested the government introduce incentives by, for instance, tying marriage registration to some social welfare benefits.
The amendment bill is silent on incentives and punishments, apart from a token monetary penalty for providing wrong information during registration.
“I cannot imagine how the government is going implement it. How will they convince people about this provision?” John said.
Lawyer Vrinda Grover cautioned that after the bill is passed, the government must not make a marriage certificate the only valid document in matrimonial disputes.
“We are not a monolithic country. People from different societies and cultural backgrounds follow different systems of marriage. To impose the registration system is not going to work. We must have space to ensure the protection of rights of all sections of society,” she said.
Grover cited how deaths and births are not yet universally registered in the country despite the current act making the practice mandatory since 1969. “The same fate will befall this law,” she said.
She said empowering women socially and economically alone could make them strong and enable them to fight injustice.
The bill was passed in a voice vote with members from all the parties supporting it. The BJP’s Basawaraj Patil advocated stricter punishment for providing wrong information at the time of registration.
Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav said the bill should have covered live-in relationships, making their registration compulsory.