NA Adopts Marriage (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2024

NGAWANG JAMPHEL
Thimphu

The National Assembly unanimously adopted the Marriage (Amendment) Bill of 2024 during the ongoing session on 21 June.  The bill, which sets the legal marriageable age at eighteen for both males and females, marks a significant step towards protecting the rights and welfare of young individuals in Bhutan.

Historically, the Marriage Act of Bhutan 1980 stipulated different marriageable ages for males and females, allowing females to marry at sixteen and males at eighteen.

This discrepancy has been the subject of various amendments since the 1990s. A major amendment in 1996 raised the legal age for females to eighteen, aligning it with that for males. However, inconsistencies remained, necessitating the latest amendment to unequivocally establish the legal marriageable age at eighteen for both genders.

The legislative proposal for the amendment and translation of the marriageable age to eighteen years for females was initially submitted by the Legislative and Procedural Division on behalf of the National Assembly Secretariat to the Legislative Committee.

This was in response to a request from the Department of Education Programme, Ministry of Education and Skills Development, seeking clarification on the marriageable age and requesting a review to rectify inconsistencies in the English translation of the Marriage Act of Bhutan, 1980.

The Translation and Proceedings and Resolution of the 74th Session of the National Assembly of Bhutan held from 28th June to 19th July 1996 recorded amendments to the provisions of the Marriage Act of 1980.

His Majesty, the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, commanded the High Court to review the Marriage Act, resulting in an Amendment Text enacted by the National Assembly. However, the specific amendment of the marriageable age for females to eighteen years was not found in the text of the 1996 Amendment, despite its implementation since that time as noted in a High Court order (ka-33)2002/2150.

Later legislation, such as the Penal Code of 2004, the Child Care and Protection Act of Bhutan 2011, the Contract Act of the Kingdom of Bhutan 2013, along with international conventions like the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, have further reinforced Bhutan’s commitment to ensuring human rights and a uniform application of the marriageable age of eighteen years for both genders.

The amendment to Section Kha 1-11 of the Marriage Act of Bhutan 1980 now clearly stipulates that no marriage certificates will be issued for marriages where either party is below eighteen years of age. This regulation aims to ensure that individuals have attained the legal age for marriage, safeguarding their welfare and maturity in entering into marriage.

Section Ka 1-14 of the original Marriage Act, which was amended from the Thrimshung 1957, originally stated: “No marriage certificates shall be granted for marriages performed between a male person not attaining the age of eighteen years and a female not attaining sixteen years, as they are considered not to have attained the legal age for marriage.” This outdated clause has now been revised to reflect the uniform age of eighteen for both males and females.

The chairman of the Legislative Committee, highlighted the importance of this amendment, emphasizing the need for uniformity in the law. He pointed out that while other national laws, such as the Supreme Court directives, the Penal Code of Bhutan, the Contract Act of Bhutan 2013, and the Child Care and Protection Act of Bhutan, recognize the legal age for marriage as eighteen for both genders, the Marriage Act lagged behind. “There is a need for uniformity of law,” he stated, emphasizing the inconsistency that has now been rectified with this amendment.

The motion for the adoption of the Marriage (Amendment) Bill of 2024 was moved by the Chairperson of the Legislative Committee and received unanimous support from all 45 members present in the session. This strong consensus reflects the Parliament’s commitment to protecting the rights of young individuals and ensuring their readiness for marriage.

The bill will now proceed to the National Council for further consideration, marking the next step in its legislative journey.

The need for this amendment also stems from the historical context of previous attempts to update the Marriage Act. Notably, the Marriage Amendment Act of 2016, which proposed several changes including provisions on child support allowance and responsibilities in cases of separation, was rejected by the National Assembly despite recommendations from the Women, Children, and Youth Committee (WCYC).

The amendment proposals were deferred multiple times, and instead of amending the existing Act, suggestions were made to enact a new Marriage Act due to the outdated nature and complexities arising from repeated amendments.

Over the years, the Marriage Act of Bhutan 1980 has undergone several amendments, including significant changes in 1996, 2005, 2006, and 2009. These amendments reflect ongoing efforts to update and clarify the legal framework surrounding marriage in Bhutan. The latest amendment, focusing solely on the legal age for marriage, is a crucial step in this continuous process.

The bill now awaits further consideration by the National Council, marking a significant milestone in Bhutan’s legislative history.

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