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Personal Laws (Amendment) Act, 2019

  Aug 05, 2020

Personal Laws (Amendment) Act, 2019

What is the amendment about?

Personal Laws (Amendment) Act, 2019, seeks to remove leprosy as a ground for divorce in five personal laws – Hindu Marriage Act, Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, Divorce Act (for Christians), Special Marriage Act and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act.

The amendments introduced in the Bill omit the provisions which stigmatise and discriminate against leprosy-affected persons.

 What did the law say before?

The condition under Section 18 (2) (c) of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, that a Hindu wife is entitled to live separately from her husband without forfeiting her claim to maintenance if the latter is suffering from a virulent form of leprosy has been omitted.

These Acts contain provisions related to marriage, divorce, and separation of Hindu and Muslim couples. Each of these Acts prescribes leprosy as a ground for seeking divorce or separation from the spouse.

 The Personal Laws (Amendment) Act, 2018 removes this as a ground for divorce or separation. 

What is the significance of the Amendment?

The Act is meant to provide for the integration of leprosy patients into the mainstream. It is in keeping with the UN General Assembly Resolution of 2010 on the ‘Elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members’.

The law follows a National Human Rights Commission recommendation a decade ago to introduce amendments in personal laws and other statutes. 

What necessitated this?

Over 110 Central and State laws discriminate against leprosy patients. These laws stigmatise and isolate leprosy patients and, coupled with age-old beliefs about leprosy, cause the patients untold suffering.  So, there was a need for a separate law.

What is leprosy?

Leprosy is one of the oldest diseases in recorded history. Also, known as Hansen’s disease (HD), it is a chronic, progressive bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae.

It primarily affects the nerves of the extremities, the skin, the lining of the nose, the upper respiratory tract and the eyes. The disease produces skin ulcers, nerve damage, and muscle weakness. If it isn’t treated, it can cause severe disfigurement and significant disability.

It is known to occur at all ages ranging from early infancy to very old age. It is common in many countries, especially those with a tropical or subtropical climate. 

What is the background of leprosy in India?

Leprosy is one of the world’s oldest diseases with India accounting for over 60% of the annual new cases of leprosy.

Official data says that the number of new Leprosy cases detected during 2016-17 is around 140,000 and the prevalence Rate per 10000 population as on March 2017 for India is 0.66, it is established that the number underestimates the real Leprosy burden. In 2017, India along with Brazil and Indonesia are the only countries where more than 10,000 new cases are reported per year. 

What are the Government Initiatives regarding leprosy?

The Government has announced the three-pronged strategy for early detection of leprosy cases in the community. It was introduced in 2016 under the National Health Mission, especially in the hard-to-reach areas.

A special Leprosy Case Detection Campaign was carried out in 2016. As a result, more than 32000 cases were confirmed and were put on treatment.

 What are the Supreme Court Rulings regarding the same?

  • The Supreme Court has asked the Centre, states and Union Territories to undertake a campaign to spread awareness about the curability of leprosy so that those suffering from it are not discriminated.
  • It recommended for repealing archaic provisions from 119 statutes that stigmatise leprosy patients.
  • No government hospital shall decline treatment to leprosy patients. People suffering from leprosy also have the right to live with human dignity.