§ 4 and 5. Miss RATHBONE
asked the Secretary of State for India (1) if he will report to the House what steps, if any, have been taken by the central and local Governments of India to carry out the steps recommended two years ago by the Joshi Committee as necessary to render effective the administration of the Sarda Child Marriage Restraint Act, namely, a wide publicity campaign aided by State funds; the keeping of marriage registers in a prescribed form with details of age, etc.; universal compulsory notification of marriages and births; the issue free of charge of certificates of birth and marriage to the parties concerned; the employment of women police, women jurors and assessors, and medical women in the investigation of sexual offences; and the provision of separate women's waiting rooms at all court houses;
(2) if he will state how many complaints of violation of the Sarda Act of Restraint of Child Marriage have been received and dealt with by the courts since the Act came into force on 1st April, 1930, distinguishing between cases prior to and those subsequent to the formal cessation of the campaign of civil disobedience?
§ Mr. BENN
Perhaps the House will forgive a somewhat long reply on this important matter. The Child Marriage 592 Restraint Act, generally known as the Sarda Act, which was enacted on 1st October, 1929, and came into operation on 1st April, 1930, makes it an offence punishable by fine or, in certain cases, by imprisonment or by both, to contract or arrange a marriage between persons either of whom is below the age of 18 in the case of the male and 14 in the case of the female. The Act further prescribes that to enable the appropriate court to take cognisance of an alleged offence under the Act, a complaint must be laid within 12 months of the solemnisation of the marriage in respect of which an offence is alleged. The actual inquiry into the complaint, if one is authorised by the court, is conducted by a magistrate.
I am informed that between the 1st April, 1930, when the Act came into force, and February of this year there were 29 prosecutions under the Act. I have no more recent information, but the number of prosecutions since February is probably very small if only for the reason that, as the House is no doubt aware, there are a number of private amending Bills which are either already before the Indian Legislature or of which notice has been given.
The Joshi Committee reported on 20th June, 1929, some months before the Sarda Bill was enacted in its final form, and its terms of reference were therefore framed without specific reference to that Act. Several of its recommendations, including those mentioned in Question No. 4, have been referred by the Government of India to local governments. Until the views of all of these have been received and considered the Government of India are not able to decide what further steps can be taken in regard to these recommendations.
§ Miss RATHBONE
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why it has taken over three years to refer these administrative points to the Provincial Governments and get their replies thereon?
§ Mr. BENN
The hon. Lady will remember that the recommendations of the Committee were before the Legislature when the Act was enacted, and some of the recommendations were embodied or taken into consideration in framing the Act. As to others, it has been necessary 593 to seek information. It has been a long inquiry, but all the replies have not yet been received.
Will the right hon. Gentleman see that this matter is not pigeon-holed in view of its great importance, and will he ask the Government of India to report as to how soon they expect a reply from the Provincial Governments on this matter?
Is it not most important that this should not become a dead letter in view of the appalling abuses which are going on in India in regard to this matter?
§ Miss RATHBONE
In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall take the earliest convenient opportunity of raising this question on the Motion for the Adjournment.