The Madras High Court has held that the act prohibiting child marriages was not against the Muslim Personal Law and would prevail over the latter as it had been enacted for the welfare of girl children.

The court was dismissing a public interest litigation which sought a direction to government officials not to interfere with marriages solemnised as per the Muslim Personal Law by invoking provisions of Prohibition of Child Marriages Act (POCMA) of 2006, which bars marriage of girls below 18 years.

According to the petitioner, the personal law allows marriage of Muslim girls between the age of 15 and 18. “The Prohibition of Child Marriages Act is not against the Muslim Personal Law. The Act enacted for the welfare of the girl children prevails over the personal law. The former helps the girls to get education, empowerment etc.,” a division bench here comprising justices S Tamilvanan and V S Ravi said in their order yesterday.

The PIL filed by Social Democratic Party of India functionary Mohammed Abbas challenged the action of District Social Welfare Officer, who had stopped the proposed marriage of a 16-year old girl, daughter of one Syed Abuthakir or Maharajapuram village in Virudhunagar, and handing her over to the custody of Child Welfare Committee.

This is the second time that the high court has delivered a similar order on the issue of marriage of minor Muslim girls.

On March 5, Justice C T Selvam, dimissing an appeal against a lower court order, had ruled POCMA was secular in nature and Muslims could not rely on their personal law to claim the right to give minor girls in marriage even at the age of 15 presuming that the girl had attained puberty.

He had further said such a right would run counter to the POCMA aimed at preventing the “evil practice” of child marriage besides safeguarding the health of girl children and elevating the status of women.

The PIL was filed against the Social Welfare officer’s action contending that the officials were in no way competent to prohibit Muslim marriages under POCMA.

The petitioner submitted the Muslim Personal Law allows the marriage of girls aged between 15 and 18 and hence, the PIL “is filed for the overall welfare of the Islam community.” He also sought the court’s direction to the government to pay Rs.10 lakh compensation to the family.

Earlier, the court had directed to produce the girl before it and later handed her over to her parents after obtaining an undertaking that the girl shall not be given in marriage till the judgement was given.