Some laws discriminate against persons with leprosy: Law panel

Under various Acts leprosy still constitutes a ground for divorce, separation or annulment of marriage


Although leprosy may cause irreversible disabilities, with medical advances, it is now a completely curable disease. Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP
Although leprosy may cause irreversible disabilities, with medical advances, it is now a completely curable disease. Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP

New Delhi: With India having the largest number of leprosy cases globally, the law commission on Tuesday batted for a new law to eliminate discrimination faced by those affected by it and recommended repeal and amendment of certain Acts which it felt were discriminatory in nature.

In a report submitted to the law ministry, the law panel noted that in 2014, India had the largest number of new leprosy cases globally (58%). Although leprosy may cause irreversible disabilities, with medical advances, it is now a completely curable disease. However, a major obstacle is the social stigma associated with leprosy, and many persons affected by leprosy continue to be outcast from society, it said.

“Another problem is that of Indian laws, which continue to directly and indirectly discriminate against persons affected by leprosy,” the law commission report said. Recommending amendments to personal laws, the commission said under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939, the amended Indian Divorce Act, 1869, Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, leprosy affecting either spouse constitutes a ground for divorce, annulment of marriage or separation without forfeiture of maintenance.

“One of the main objectives behind the inclusion of these provisions under the relevant legislations has been to restrain the spread of the infection of leprosy (given that it is a communicable disease) to the unaffected spouse,” it said.

It pointed out that leprosy is no longer an incurable disease and can be treated by MDT, which in its first dose itself kills 99.9% of the leprosy bacillus and renders the infection noncontagious and non-virulent. “From 2005 till 2014, the National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP) recorded a rate of 125,000 to 135,000 new cases every year. A majority of these are children, who are threatened with isolation and discrimination at a young age,” the panel headed by justice (Retd) A P Shah noted.

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