Reiterating its controversial stand on marital rape, the Centre defended in the SC an IPC provision that allows a man to force his wife aged 15-17 for sex without consequences.
The exception to the rape law was meant to protect the institution of marriage, it said.
Ironically, according to Indian law, marriage of a woman under 18 is considered child marriage.
Law discriminates against married girls under 18: Petition
A petition by NGO Independent Thought challenged Section 375(2), under which a man can force his wife for sex if she's above 15.
It raised the lack of consistency in defining a 'child' in marriage laws and rape laws.
It argued the same law criminalized consensual sex by an unmarried girl aged 15-17. "Then why should a (married) girl of the same age suffer?"
'Changing laws might make children of 'child marriages' suffer'
"The institution of marriage must be protected. Otherwise, children from such marriages will suffer," the Centre responded. Objecting to raising age of consent, counsel Binu Tamta clarified marriage between minors wasn't void, but voidable. According to government data, there are 23mn child brides in India.
This reflects badly on the government, court says
The court wasn't satisfied. "This reflects badly on the government," said Justice Deepak Gupta about the 23mn child brides.
The bench sought details about the number of child marriage prohibition officers in India, and about the number of cases registered under the Child Marriage Prohibition Act, 2006.
The court wondered how this exception in rape laws wasn't an incentive for child marriage.