Muslim Groups Seek Legalization of Child Marriage in India
On September 22nd, 9 to 10 Muslim organizations in the Indian state of Kerala jointly announced in a conference held in the city of Kozhikode, that they were uniting to oppose the Child Marriage (Prevention) Act on the grounds that it infringes upon the freedom of religion for Muslims. These groups included the Indian Union Muslim League, which is the second-largest party in the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) coalition in the state government, and has representation in the Indian parliament. Forming the Muslim Vyakthi Niyama Samrkshana Samithi (Muslim Personal Law Protection Committee), these groups seek to petition the Supreme Court of India against the law, which states the legal age to marry for women to be 18 years and 21 years for men.
"The present Prohibition of Child Marriage Act which fixes the marital age, violates the Muslims' fundamental right to follow its religion and the Muslim personal law" said Kottumala Bappu Musaliar, who is the chairman of state Haj Committee and leader of the clerical body, the Samastha Kerala Jamiyyuthul Ulema (SKJU). Along with the Muslim League and the SKJU, other involved groups include the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and the Kerala Nadvathul Mujahideen. However, the Jamaat-e-Islami Kerala's General Secretary, P. Mujibur Rehman claimed that the meeting had been organized to “discourage” underage marriages.
Kerala Muslims Top Cases of Child Marriage
Of the 3,404 cases of underage marriages reported in 2012 in the state of Kerala, 2,827 cases were reported from the Muslim community alone, according to the Integrated Child Development Scheme. The Kerala Muslim community is already dealing with the resurgence of the practice of “Arabi Kalyanam” (Arab wedding) where young and often underage Muslim girls from poor families are married to Arab nationals for a sum of money, and abandoned after a few weeks. Two recent reported cases involve a UAE citizen and a Saudi Arabian citizen abandoning their brides after only a few months. Both cases occurred in the Malappuram district.
Reformers Blame Muslim Clerics
Indian social reformers and women's rights organizations have reacted with outrage and pledged to move the judiciary as well. Muslim women's rights activist V. P. Suhara has blamed Muslim clerics and orthodox Muslims of being behind the move, and asserted that the Muslim clergy wanted women to remain uneducated and exploitable through child marriage, polygamy and easy divorce. Reformer and writer M. N. Karassery has condemned the silence of the state's leading Muslim politicians on the issue. The leader of the Muslim Students Federation (MSF), itself the youth wing of the Muslim League party, appeared to criticize the party leadership for supporting this policy by pointing out that female Muslim college students were opposed to early marriage, but declined to officially comment.