To avoid multiplicity of litigation and conflicting views on interpretation of Articles 14, 15 & 21 and judgments involving gender justice & equality, a plea has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking transfer of two pleas from the High Courts of Delhi and Rajasthan to it, regarding the issue of ''Uniform Minimum Age of Marriage for Men and Women''.
In August last year, the Delhi High Court issued notice to the Centre and the Law Commission of India on a plea filed by a BJP leader and lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay, seeking uniform age of marriage for men and women.
This year in February, the Rajasthan High Court sought response from the Centre on a similar PIL.
The present petition before the apex court has been filed by Ashwani Kumar Upadhyay through his lawyer Ashwani Kumar Dubey.
The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 years for females and 21 years for males. The petition states that the difference in the legal age of marriage for men and women is based on patriarchal stereotypes, has no scientific backing, perpetrates de jure and de facto inequality against women, and goes completely against the global trends.
"Petitioner is compelled to approach this Court as more PILs may be filed in other High Courts seeking ''Uniform Minimum Age of Marriage for Men and Women''. Therefore, in order to avoid multiplicity of the litigations and conflicting views on interpretation of Articles 14, 15, 21 and judgments on gender justice and gender equality, the Court may be pleased to transfer these PILs and decide them collectively," said the transfer plea filed under Article 139A of the Constitution.
The plea states the following provisions under various legislations which stipulate the age of marriage as being discriminatory:
Section 60(1) of the Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872
Section 3(1)(c) of the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936
Section 4(c) of the Special Marriage Act, 1954
Section 5(iii) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
Section 2(a) of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006
Stating the discriminatory provisions under various legislations, the petition lays down that any provision that perpetrates or reinforces discriminatory stereotypes against a class of persons is manifestly arbitrary and a fortiori violative of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution.
"Differential age limit is based solely on stereotypes. The Law Commission has observed that there exists no scientific basis for such distinction and that differential limit "simply contributes to the stereotype that wives must be younger than their husbands". Likewise, Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women has noted that: "Some countries provide for different ages for marriage for men and women. As such provisions assume incorrectly that women have a different rate of intellectual development from men, or that their stage of physical and intellectual development at marriage is immaterial, these provisions should be abolished. In other countries, the betrothal of girls or undertakings by family members on their behalf is permitted. Such measures contravene not only the Convention, but also women's right freely to choose her partner."
The petitioner said more than 125 countries in the world have a uniform age of marriage for men and women and the National Human Rights Commission, pursuant to the National Conference on Child Marriage held in New Delhi in August 2018, had also recommended that India follow suit.
Alternatively, the plea has sought a direction to the Centre to take appropriate steps to remove the anomalies in the minimum age of marriage and make it ''gender neutral, religion neutral and uniform for all citizens'' in spirit of the fundamental rights of equality and right to life and International conventions.