02/15/2006, 00.00
INDIA
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Compulsory marriage registration to be introduced

by Nirmala Carvalho
Marriage registration should become compulsory within a few months in India. Under existing rules, proof of marriage ceremony was enough. The Indian Church backs the new rule, but demands it applies to all religions. Human rights activists hail the law: it will help eliminate practices such as polygamy, forced marriages and trafficking in women.

Bangalore (AsiaNews) – The Indian Church supports plans that would require the Union and state governments to adopt legislation making marriage registration mandatory. Mgr Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Agra and newly-appointed chairperson of the Commission for Social Communications, told AsiaNews that the Church will also set up its own group of experts to study any bill to make sure it will not leave Christians out in the cold.

This comes after India's Supreme Court gave India's central and state governments three months to enact legislation making it compulsory to register all marriages. Under the old rules, proof of a traditional religious marriage ceremony was sufficient.

Women rights groups say it will curb crimes such as bigamy and marriage without consent.

Archbishop Gracias, who is currently in Bangalore for the end of the general assembly of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, said that although he has not yet read any draft proposal, he is certain that "it will not discriminate on the basis of religion".

The prelate does however note that the existing "Christian Marriage Act" already provides for marriage registration. "Christian marriages have always been legal; marriage documents are always sent to the marriage registrar," he said.

The Supreme Court has already asked for opinions regarding marriage registration from all state governments, as well as from the National Commission for Women (MCW), an autonomous advisory body set up by the government. It expects the process to take a month.

Although in favour of new legislation because "it will be good for society", Archbishop Garcias said that he was going to "convene a meeting of our legal experts to scrutinise the [Supreme Court's] ruling. We must make sure it does not inconvenience our people".

For its part, the NCW announced at once that it was in favour of registering marriages. In its view, any proposed bill should help ensure a minimum marriage age, prevent forced marriages, curb bigamy and polygamy and deter people from buying and selling young girls under the guise of marriage.

Moreover, even though states such as Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh already have such laws, the NCW is of the opinion that they need to be strengthened since they have many loopholes.

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