Marriages may soon need no-dowry undertaking

Planning to get married, or want to get your marriage registered?

First, declare in writing that you didn't ask or give dowry.

The committee on petitions under the chairmanship of MP Bhagat Singh on Wednesday presented its report to the Rajya Sabha on the dire need to curb female feticide. The panel has recommended that that the registration of marriage must be made mandatory and "undertaking from both the parties should be maintained at that time that no dowry has been exchanged between those parties". The committee said it "understands that publicity of high expenses on marriages of rich people have cascading effects on the psyche of middle-class and lower-middle class citizens of the country."

The report, therefore, recommended to the ministries to find ways and means to regulate high expenses for the wedding ceremony. "The evil of dowry is one of the vital causes leading to low status of girl child in the society. Unfortunately, the practice of dowry is still prevalent. The committee is unhappy that this law enacted in 1961 has been unable to check the evil of dowry in the society."

It added, "The committee, accordingly, recommends that government should take immediate steps to review the toothless Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, and ensure that it prescribes some mandatory obligations in the form of disclosures/joint declarations on the parties to the marriage (on both sides) so that they remain conscious and bound socially and legally to their resolves/declaration of not having asked for/given any dowry in marriage."

As per the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data, there has been an increase in cases of dowry registered under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, from 3,204 in 2005 to 5,650 in 2009.

The existing definition of 'dowry' under the Act is limited in its scope and does not distinguish between 'gifts' that are exchanged voluntarily and 'dowry' that involves an element of coercion, the report said.

"While the Rules to the Act provide for registration of gifts, but, in the absence of a mechanism for authentication of such gifts, there is nothing to prevent its abuse/misuse. In the opinion of the ministry of women and child development, the scope and coverage of the law needs to be expanded, based on a better understanding of how the system of dowry operates in the current social context. There is also a need for stricter penalties under the law to serve as deterrence to demanding dowry," it added.

The government is considering making amendments to the Act. Some of the areas which are being looked at are strengthening the definition of "dowry", making a specific provision on 'gifts' and their authentication, increasing penalties for 'taking and demanding dowry' to increase the law's deterrent effect and strengthening role of functionaries under the law.

Dowry deaths under Section 304B of IPC has also increased by 2.6% in 2009 (8,383) as compared to 2008 (8,172), says NCRB record, 2009.

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