Yangyel Lhaden

After seven years, the Marriage Act is being revisited in Parliament. This time, the amendment deliberation will focus solely on one section, pertaining to the legal age for marriage.

The Marriage Act of Bhutan 1980, states that the legal age for marriage is 16 for females and 18 for males. This contradicts with other Acts and laws, which state that the legal age for marriage for both males and females is 18.

The chairman of the Legal Committee, Kuenga, said that although the law in the country recognises 18 as the legal age for marriage, it has not been clearly reflected in the Marriage Act. “There is a need for uniformity of law.”

The Supreme Court, the Penal Code of Bhutan, the Contract Act of Bhutan 2013, and the Child Care and Protection Act of Bhutan all recognise the legal age for marriage as 18 for both males and females.

The proposed amendment to section kha, 1-14 of the Marriage Act of Bhutan 1980 (Amendment Bill 2024) states:

“Consequent to the restrictions on the marriages of minors as stipulated in the aforesaid section kha 1-11, no marriage certificates shall be granted for marriages performed between a male not attaining the age of eighteen years and a female not attaining eighteen years, as they are considered not to have attained the legal age for marriage.”

During the second government’s tenure, the Marriage Amendment Act 2016 was deliberated in the National Assembly. However, the House rejected the amendments proposed by the Women, Children, and Youth Committee (WCYC).

The WCYC had proposed 16 clauses to amend provisions on child support allowance, the separation cost to be paid by the spouse who commits cruelty, and the responsibility for upbringing children born out of wedlock when the mother dies.

The House deferred the amendment five times. Instead of amending the Marriage Act, the House suggested enacting a new Marriage Act, as the existing Act had become outdated and repeated amendments made it more confusing.

Ultimately, the proposed amendments became a dead Bill.

The Marriage Act of Bhutan 1980 has been amended several times. Forty-six clauses were amended in the 74th session in 1996, 10 clauses were amended in 2009, six clauses were amended in the 83rd session of the Assembly in 2005, and one clause was amended in the 85th session in 2006.