The Supreme Court of India on Wednesday criminalised sex with minor wife aged between 15 and 18 years, saying the exception in the rape law was arbitrary and was violative of the Constitution.
Section 375 of the IPC, which defines the offence of rape, has an exception clause that says intercourse or sexual act by a man with his wife, not below 15 years, is not rape.
However, the age of consent is 18 years.
The Indian apex court said the exception in the rape law was contrary to the philosophy of other statutes and violates the bodily integrity of a girl child.
A bench comprising Justice Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta also expressed concern over the prevalent practise of child marriage in the country and said social justice laws were not implemented with the spirit with which they have been enacted by Parliament.
The bench clarified that it has not dealt with the issue of marital rape as it was not raised before it by respective parties.
Justice Gupta, who wrote a separate but concurrent verdict, said the age of marriage was 18 in all laws and the exception given in the rape law under the IPC is "capricious, arbitrary and violates the rights of a girl child".
The apex court said the exception is violative of Article 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution.
It asked the Centre and the states to take proactive steps to prohibit child marriage across the country.
It voiced concern over thousands of minor girls being married in mass wedding ceremonies on the occasion of Akshaya Tritiya.