HL Deb 18 December 1888 vol 332 cc619-21

said, a good deal of attention had recently been drawn to a case at Patna in which a magistrate ordered a girl, alleged to be under the age of 14 years, to be handed over to a man for alleged immoral purposes, to whom the mother was alleged to have sold her. Sir John Gorst, replying to a Question on the subject in the House of Commons a few days ago, stated that the magistrate acted under Section 551 of the Indian Procedure Code, and added that the Secretary of State desired him to remind the House that Indian magistrates were bound to administer the law as it was, and that Her Majesty's Government was under the most solemn obligations to respect the religious and social customs of the Hindoos, and all other classes of Her Majesty's subjects in India. He entirely agreed with that statement, which was in accordance with the recommendation of the English Commissioners for the codification of the law of India, who, in the course of their Report, said— And such code, prepared, as it ought to be, with a constant regard to the conditions and institutions of India, and the character, religions, and usages of the population, would, we are convinced, he of great benefit to that country. The section under which the magistrate acted, it should be borne in mind, only applied to female children who were under the age of 14 years, detained for an unlawful purpose—and an immoral purpose would, of course, be an unlawful purpose. It was, therefore, very important to clear up distinctly whether the child was under 14 years or not. The Under Secretary, in his Answer to the House of Commons, did not mention a strange fact in this case—namely, that this child had already been twice married. The case threw some light on the system of child marriages in India, which, in a recent trial of a Brahmin convicted of murdering his child wife, Mr. Justice Norris pronounced to be the root of most of the miseries in Hindoo social life, and which, he added, was now severely condemned by a large section of the Hindoo community. He did not desire to discuss or express any opinion on this case at Patna, but it was one which had aroused immense interest in the district and which required careful consideration, touching closely as it did the social customs of the people. At present the House was not in full possession of the facts, and it being the first province of this House to supervise the administration of justice in all the dominions of the Crown, he would ask the Secretary of State for India whether he would procure further information as to this important case?


deprecated any discussion of this matter at the present moment, as the House was not in possession of full information. The case was recently brought to his notice, and, after communication with the Government of India, the following information was received, which was recently, at his desire, given to the House of Commons:— Quinn, magistrate of Patna district, reports that girl alleged to be under 14 years of age left reputed husband's house in October last. Application made to magistrate of district under section 551, Criminal Procedure Act 10 of 1882, to restore girl to her mother. Orders issued under section to show cause why girl should not be restored. Inquiry made about it shows that girl's marriage has been proved and Court's orders issued for the restoration of the girl to her husband and mother. Bengal High Court, on application, pending inquiry, has refused to interfere with district magistate's proceedings. Affair apparently dispute between the missionaries and natural guardians for possession of native child. The Government of Bengal has called for record of district magistrate's proceedings. He had no occasion to doubt the accuracy of the facts in that statement, and he gathered from it that the matter was still pending in the High Court of Bengal. He had, by telegram, again communicated with the Viceroy, and had requested his Excellency to furnish him, by mail, with the fullest report of the whole proceedings. When this report arrived he would communicate its contents to their Lordships' House; but until then he did not think that anything could be done in the matter.