The Centre on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that though Parliament was conscious of its social obligations and would take a call to put an end to child marriages, the social evil was a reality and that society needs were “inescapable”.

Senior counsel Rana Mukherjee told a bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta that different statutes that can have a bearing on marriage of children between the age of 15 and 18 have to be read cohesively.

Justice Lokur expressed concern over child marriage despite law prohibiting it, and said, “It is not marriage, but mirage.”

However, the bench disagreed with Mukherjee when he sought to dub the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, as “harsh”.

“The Act is not a harsh law. It just provides for a (jail) punishment of 15 days,” the bench said.

When the senior counsel said that the punishment prescribed was two years, the court said: “It is nothing. If it was death, we could have described it as a harsh law.”

The court was hearing a petition challenging Exception 2 to Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code which says that “sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under 15 years of age, is not a rape”.

Petitioner-NGO Independent Thought said the exception was “discriminatory” and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution that guarantees equality before law.

Pointing to the dichotomy in the provisions of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, and the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, Justice Lokur said that while under the former a girl married at the age of 15 can move court to get it annulled at the age of 20, in the case of the 1955 Act, a girl married before attaining the age of 15 can repudiate the marriage only up to the age of 18.

Hearing on the matter will continue on Wednesday.