Wednesday, July 23, 2014

UN support to common civil code? 'Eliminate multiple legal systems of marriage, family affairs in India'

By Our Representative
In what may seem to be a direct support to the NDA government’s expressed “need” for a common civil code in India, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has expressed serious concern over “the coexistence of multiple legal systems with regard to marriage and family relations” in country. It has added, these multiple legal systems “apply to the different religious groups and which results in the deep and persistent discrimination against women”.
However, it should not be any comfort to the powers-that-be, as CEDAW simultaneously insists on changes in the Special Marriage Act and the Hindu Marriage Act by bringing them in consonance with internationally-accepted standards, promulgated under the auspices of the UN. CEDAW takes strong exception to certain “proposed amendments to the Special Marriage Act and Hindu Marriage Act”, currently before Parliament, saying, these “only provide a limited and discretionary possibility for distribution of marital property”.
Favouring “review of the application of the Special Marriage Act to remove procedural barriers regarding the application for permission to marry and the registration of marriages”, CEDAW insists, there should be “equality between women and men in marriage and family relations.”
Pointing towards what it calls “continuing reluctance to review its policy of non-interference in the personal laws of communities without their initiative and consent”, CEDAW believes this is in contravention to the articles 5(a) and 16(1) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. (click HERE to see).
CEDAW -- which has just put out its "concluding observations" on conditions of women in India -- expresses concern about “the procedural requests of the Special Marriage Act”, which it believes “de facto hamper couples, especially women, from seeking permission to marry and register marriages. It underlines, “The committee is particularly concerned that spousal property is overall governed by a regime of separate property so that women are not awarded their share in the property accumulated during marriage.”
This could be done, CEDAW says, by ensuring that “all the laws on marriage and family relations governing the different religious groups, as well as their further amendment, are in full compliance with articles 15 and 16 of the Convention and the Committee’s General Recommendation no. 21 (1994) on equality in marriage and family relations.”
It further says, there is a need for “ensuring that all the laws on marriage and family relations governing the different religious groups, as well as their further amendment, are in full compliance with articles 15 and 16 of the Convention and the Committee’s General Recommendations no. 21 (1994) and no. 29 (2012) on equality in marriage and family relations and on economic consequences of family relations and their dissolution” (click HERE to see details).
In fact, CEDAW calls for “reviewing existing legal framework on spousal property relations so as to ensure women are provided their share in the marital property in light of the Committee's General Recommendation no. 29 (2012) on equality in marriage and family relations and on economic consequences of family relations and their dissolution”.
While noting that the implementation of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (2006) has led to a certain decrease in the number of early and forced marriages of girls, CEDAW notes that there is still a “high prevalence of such marriages”.
It adds, “Victims of child marriages must file a petition with a court to void the marriage within two years after reaching the age of majority.” In this context, it expresses serious concern “at reports that judges often authorize marriages of under-age girls based on Muslim Personal Laws, and that no legislation ensuring the registration of all marriages (in India) has been adopted.”

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