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India marital law reform would view women as equals - report

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Mon, 6 Feb 2012 05:38 PM
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NEW DELHI (TrustLaw) – All assets acquired by married couples should be considered joint property and divided equally in the event of separation or desertion, according to a high-level government panel in India tasked with improving women’s rights.

The Planning Commission's working group on Women's Agency and Empowerment wants comprehensive legislation to be established as part of an overall review of family laws, according to a report in the Times of India newspaper.

In India, women -- widows, divorcees or those separated from their partners -- rarely gain rights over property and assets belonging to their husbands, often due to a lack of awareness of their rights and loopholes in the law.

The legislation, the “Right to Marital Property Act”, is needed to recognise a woman as an equal partner with her husband, and her contribution to the household should be appreciated, the panel said, according to the Times. It would classify all property as jointly owned and to be divided equally at the end of a relationship.

Apart from some reforms in the 1950s in the Hindu Personal Law and some changes in maintenance rights for Muslim women, legislation on family issues has remained unchanged for decades, the report in the Times said.

"There is thus an urgent need to consider the enactment of a standalone comprehensive legislation, which will ensure that all assets that have been acquired by the family are divided in an equitable manner," the panel, headed by officials from the women and child development ministry, said in its report.

The panel also suggested that laws should place the onus on the husband to prove his income and any maintenance awarded should allow women and children to maintain their standard of living after separation.

The government should be made responsible for recovery of the maintenance amount, along with creation of a fund to pay the maintenance awarded by the court, particularly to poor litigants, the panel said, according to the report in the Times.

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