A file photo of an Indian bride at a wedding ceremony in Ahmedabad, Gujarat in 2009.

Sam Panthaky/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Why isn’t it a crime for a man to rape his wife in India? The government says it’s because of poverty, religious beliefs, social customs and the mindset of the Indian society, among other things.

A federal minister said Wednesday that India’s Bharatiya Janata Party-led government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not plan to introduce punishments for marital rape.

“It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context,” Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary said in a written statement to India’s upper house of Parliament.

He attributed this to “various factors e.g. level of education/illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of the society to treat the marriage as a sacrament, etc.”

Mr. Chaudhury, a minister in India’s Ministry of Home Affairs, was replying to a member of Parliament who had sought the government’s stance on marital rape.

Whether or not to criminalize rape within marriage has long been debated in India. The United Nations has recommended India make it criminal for a man to rape his wife. Criminalizing marital rape was also one of the suggestions of the Verma Committee, a three-member panel appointed to strengthen India’s sexual-assault laws in the wake of a brutal gang rape in 2012.

The government, then led by the Congress party, had rejected this proposal. A panel of lawmakers who opposed the move at the time argued it had “the potential of destroying the institution of marriage.”

“If marital rape is brought under the law, the entire family system will be under great stress,” a report submitted by lawmakers to Parliament had said in 2013. The government eventually passed a new sexual-assault law, which did not criminalize marital rape.

Lawyers and women’s rights activists have criticized the decision to leave marital rape out of the penal code.

Many countries have made it a crime for a husband to force his wife to have sex in recent years. Malaysia changed its laws to that effect in 2007; Turkey in 2005; and Bolivia in 2013. The United States began criminalizing marital rape in 1970s and most European countries in the 1990s.

China, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are some of the countries that do not criminalize marital rape.