Interviews

Cases of desertion of wives by NRIs increasing: Rekha SharmaChairman NCW

August 20, 2018 09:41 PM
NCW Chair person Rekha Sharma

The growing incidence of NRIs deserting their wives in India has raised the possibility of more stringent laws. An inter-ministerial panel recently recommended compulsory registration of NRI marriages within a week of wedding and an update of passports. Rekha Sharma, chairperson of the National Commission for Women (NCW), spoke to Sanjeev Verma about it: 

How many complaints has NCW received in the last five years? 

In the last five years, NCW has received 2,244 complaints from women against their NRI husbands. Yes, the number of complaints is increasing every year. There were 425 complaints in 2014, 422 in 2015, 468 in 2016, 528 in 2017 and 401 this year till date.

Firstly, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has given judgments stating that the divorce decree passed by the foreign court may be challenged and annulled in India under Section13 of the Civil Procedure Code if the divorce was obtained without the knowledge of the wife. Secondly, entering into Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLATs) with more and more countries on this aspect may prove useful in curbing the problem of ex parte divorce.

 

How serious is the problem in Punjab? What about other states with high number of NRIs like Kerala and Gujarat?

 

This year from Punjab, the NRI cell of the NCW has received 51 complaints till date whereas in 2017 and in 2016, the number of complaints received was 53 and 54 respectively. In case of Kerala and Gujarat, the number of complaints received is low as compared to Punjab. The maximum number of complaints received from Kerala in the last five years was only 18 in 2017 and in case of Gujarat, it was 36 only in 2016. However, the number of complaints received by the NRI cell cannot be considered to be representative of the actual magnitude of the problem.

 

Can desertion be made a criminal offence?

 

Presently, desertion does not amount to criminal offence per se and only gives ground for filing of divorce or restitution of conjugal rights. However, desertion may come within the ambit of ‘cruelty’ as stated under Section 498A of IPC. The Hon’ble Supreme Court has time and again given wide interpretation to the term ‘cruelty’ and if established with proper facts of the case, desertion may amount to cruelty.

 

Would pre-nuptial agreements help?

 

Women can insist on pre-nuptial agreement before marriage. Though not legally enforceable in India, it is enforceable in foreign countries and may prove to be useful when any legal proceeding is instituted in the foreign country. Pre-nuptial agreements could include a point that the husband will abide by the laws of India if any dispute arises between them.

 

 

 

What is the solution to ex parte divorce being granted by courts on foreign soil?

 

Firstly, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has given judgments stating that the divorce decree passed by the foreign court may be challenged and annulled in India under Section13 of the Civil Procedure Code if the divorce was obtained without the knowledge of the wife. Secondly, entering into Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLATs) with more and more countries on this aspect may prove useful in curbing the problem of ex parte divorce.

 

Is there a need to amend laws to attach NRIs’ properties if they desert their wives and fail to respond to summons?

 

Under Section 83 of CrPC attachment of property can be affected. In case the NRI groom does not respond to the summons and warrants issued against him, it may lead to proclamation. The need is to fast track court proceedings in the case of NRI marriages to prevent suffering of women for decades fighting their court cases.

 

How much will compulsory registration of marriages and updating their marital status on passports help as recommended by the inter-ministerial panel recently?

 

Compulsory registration of marriage can prove to be a very important measure of making very relevant information about the grooms accessible to the brides and their families. Information such as passport, social security number, employment status, immigration status in the foreign country would have to be submitted by the groom at the time of registration of marriage and it would help in preventing the desertion of women. Updating marital status on the passport of NRI grooms would prevent instances of polygamy under which NRIs marry several times without divorcing their previous wife/wives. It would also check such situations in which the men would take their children to some other country across the world without the knowledge of their wives and would simply leave them abandoned and deprived of their children.

 

What has NCW done to check desertion of wives by NRI husbands?

 

NRI cell had been constituted in 2009 to deal with complaints of women aggrieved of issues arising out of NRI marriages. NRI cell relentlessly works towards grievance redressal in these complaints by coordinating with different stakeholders like Indian police authorities, ministries of external affairs, home affairs, law and justice, and Indian missions abroad. The commission has published informative booklets and brochures based on preventive and precautionary measures which can be taken by prospective brides and their families to reduce the risk of desertion. The commission is also considering initiating a national level awareness generation programme in senior secondary schools, colleges and universities targeting women of age group of 18-23 years.

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