The government on Wednesday defended an exception clause in the Indian Penal Code that does not punish a man for raping his wife even if she is as young as 15, the Hindustan Times reported. The Supreme Court was hearing arguments presented by the Centre and NGO Independent Thought.

The NGO had challenge the Centre’s stance on the exception clause in IPC’s Section 375, which defines rape. “The Parliament should have considered various reports of the United Nations,” Independent Thought’s representative said, according to PTI.

The apex court observed that the current law does not consider a man’s physical intercourse with a girl between the age of 15 and 18 rape if they are married. However, if she is below 15, it would be considered rape, irrespective of “consent or no consent”, said a bench of justices MB Lokur and Deepak Gupta.

The Centre’s legal representative, Binu Tamta, said it was trying to defend the institution of marriage as there are 23 million child brides in India. “The children from such marriages will suffer,” Tamta said.

Responding to the statistic, Justice Gupta said it “reflects badly on the government”.

The apex court criticised the Centre’s claim and asked whether the exception clause was serving as an incentive for child marriage. It asked the lawyer to provide information on the number of child marriage prohibition officers appointed as well as the number of cases that have been registered under the Child Marriage Prohibition Act, 2006.