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INCREASING MARRIAGE AGE TO 21 A STEP FOR EMPOWEMENT OF WOMEN

Updated: Feb 27

Author: Nishtha, II year of B.A.,LL.B. from University of Allahabad


Abstract

The main aim of this research paper is to Discuss about the bill introduced in Parliament which seeks to raise the age of marriage of women from 18 to 21 the paper discusses why it's important have reexamine the age and what is the old data and benefits and scope of bill and critics opinion.

Keyword- Women empowerment, Marriage, Hindu law, special marriage act, child marriage


Introduction

Prime Minister Modi, during his Independence Day speech last year, had made a mention of the proposal for raising the age of marriage for women to 21. It is based on recommendations submitted to Niti Aayog in December 2020 by the Centre's task force, headed by Jaya Jaitly, which was constituted to examine "matters pertaining to age of motherhood, imperatives of lowering MMR (Maternal Mortality Rate), improvement of nutritional levels and related issues". The Union Cabinet on Wednesday (December 15) took the decision to raise the legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years. The legal age of marriage for men is 21 years[1]


With this decision, the government will be bringing the age of marriage for both men and women at par. “The age of marriage should be uniformly applicable to all religions, caste, creed, over- riding any custom or law that seeks to discriminate against women,”.[2]


One important thing to note is that the bill containing six sections was introduced in the Lok Sabha by Union Minister for Women & Child Development Smriti Irani. It also proposes to amend seven personal laws — the Indian Christian Marriage Act; the Parsi Marriage and


Divorce Act; the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act; the Special Marriage Act; the Hindu Marriage Act; and the Foreign Marriage Act. With this, it aims to provide a uniform age of marriage across religions, irrespective of any law, custom or practice[3]


The disparity in marriage age stems from the outdated belief that women mature earlier than men and hence should marry at a younger age. This resulted in a number of other anomalies. For example, within two years of the man or woman reaching marriageable age, the law allows a child marriage to be declared voidable at the discretion of the man or woman. This meant that a man could file such a petition until he was 23, but a woman could only do so until she was 20.


Naturally, as knowledge of the flaw behind this rationale expanded over time, the demand for equal marriage age grew. The Prevention of Child Marriage Bill 2004 was evaluated by a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law & Justice, which backed the age differentiation, citing "physical, intellectual, psychological, and emotional aspects...recognized by social thinkers." The age of 18 was also thought to be "inadequate for a boy to achieve the appropriate degree of education and economic independence."


Existed provision

Section 5(iii) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 sets 18 years as the minimum age for the bride and 21 for the groom.

  • The Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 also prescribe 18 and 21 years as the minimum age of consent for marriage for women and men, respectively.[4]

It obligates States Parties to -

  • Specify a minimum age for marriage

  • Prohibit legal acceptance of any marriage without the full and free consent of both parties


THE EVOLUTION OVER YEARS

In times ago, men and women were free to choose their life partners without any constraints. One of the disadvantages of a typical patriarchal society is that women are rarely given the opportunity to make their own decisions. Women were exploited as a result of men's control. Sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of ten years was forbidden when the Indian Penal Code was introduced in 1860. Following the protests of women campaigners, the British government passed the Age of Consent Bill in 1927, making marriage with a girl under the age of 12 unlawful. The Child Marriage Restraint Statute, which was passed in 1929, was the first important act.


Passed by the Imperative Legislative Council of India, the legal age of marriage was fixed at 18 and 14 for males and females respectively. Since its enactment, the act has been amended twice. Firstly in 1949 where the age for women for marriage was increased to 15 years.


Secondly, in 1978, the legal age was raised to 18 for women and 21 for males. Until now, the same procedure has been followed.


Section 5(iii) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 sets 18 years as the minimum age for the bride and 21 for the groom. The Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 also prescribe 18 and 21 years as the minimum age of consent for marriage for women and men, respectively. The current bill could be implemented by amending all these laws over the legal age of marriage.


What does Data say

In states like Rajasthan and Haryana where child marriage is still prevalent firmly, the enactment needs to be from the root level. It is not exaggerating to say that this legal reform is like to an arrow hitting several targets.


Potentially, it can curb all the exploitation women are facing, create an ambience for better opportunities. It can lead us to the stage of women empowerment which has been deemed by many social groups for decades. In India, 35% of females marry before they reach the age of 21.

In some states, the situation is critical. Surprisingly, West Bengal has the worst scenario of all the states, with a mean marriage age of only 20.9 years and about 47 percent of females marrying before they turn 21, even worse than Bihar and Rajasthan.


According to the recently released National Family Health Survey (NFHS), child marriage has decreased slightly in the country, from 27% in 2015-16 to 23% in 2019-20, but the government is working to reduce it even more. The maternal mortality rate in India is 113 per 100,000, yet it is still "alarmingly high" in these nine states, at 161 per 100,000.


It focuses on Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, which are all low-performing states with high maternal death rates. These states account for over half of the country's population and account for 62 % of maternal fatalities, 71 % of infant deaths, 72 % of deaths among children under the age of five, and 61 percent of births. They also responsible for 12% of all maternal deaths worldwide.


The study, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Global Health Action, looked at data from the National Family Health Survey-4 and the State-level maternal mortality ratio (2016 to 2018). (2015-2016). The study is unusual in that it examines socio-demographic characteristics as well as barriers to low institutional delivery coverage, which is a critical intervention in reducing maternal mortality owing to problems during childbirth. Ria Saha, a public health consultant in the United Kingdom, and Pintu Paul, a Ph.D. candidate at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, wrote it.


WHY IS THERE A MINIMUM AGE OF MARRIAGE?

  • The law prescribes a minimum age of marriage to essentially outlaw child marriages and prevent the abuse of minors.

  • The Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 also prescribe 18 and 21 years as the minimum age of consent for marriage for women and men, respectively. For the new age of marriage to be implemented, these laws are expected to be amended.


WHY HAS THE GOVERNMENT DECIDED TO RE-EXAMINE THE AGE OF MARRIAGE?

Early marriage and, as a result, early pregnancies have an impact on mothers' and children's nutritional levels, as well as their overall health and mental well-being. It also has an effect on the Infant Mortality Rate and Maternal Mortality Rate, as well as the empowerment of women who are denied access to education and livelihood due to early marriage.


WHAT IS THE JAYA JAITLY COMMITTEE?

The Indian government issued a notification gazette on June 4, 2020, establishing a task group to oversee all things relating to the legal age of marriage for women. Ms. Jaya Jaitly, the task force's chairperson, was in charge. In June 2020, the Ministry of Women and Child Development established a task force to look into the link between marriage age and issues like women's nutrition, anemia prevalence, IMR, MMR, and other social indices.


Former Samata Party president Jaya Jaitly led the committee, which included NITI Aayog member (Health) Dr V K Paul and secretaries from other ministries. The committee, headed by former Samata Party president Jaya Jaitly, also had on board NITI Aayog member (Health) Dr V K Paul and secretaries of several ministries.


The committee's task was to look at raising the marriage age and the implications for women's and children's health, as well as ways to increase women's educational opportunities the committee's findings, which has now been accepted and approved by the Union Cabinet. The group also stated that the most challenging part of the process will be obtaining social approval for the decision. The findings are Based on feedback from young adults from 16 universities across the country, the committee has proposed that the marriage age be raised to 21 years. In addition, approximately 15 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were enlisted to reach out to young adults in distant areas and marginalised communities.


A comprehensive public awareness campaign has been proposed as a means of promoting social acceptance of the decision. It has also pushed for girls' access to schools and universities, as well as transportation to distant educational institutions. According to the organisation, sex education should be formalised and included into the school curriculum. Polytechnic education for women, as well as skills and business training and livelihood enhancement, have all been suggested as strategies to ensure that the marriageable age is raised.


Current laws and old provision

The Sarda Act, 1929, later called the Child Marriage Restraint Act (CMRA), 1929, was a statute in India that stipulated the minimum age for marriage.


It was the first law prohibiting child marriage, and it covered all of India except Jammu and Kashmir. It made it illegal to marry girls under the age of 15 and boys under the age of 18. The law was changed in 1978 to make the minimum age for marriage 18 for girls and 21 for boys.

  • This position remains the same even in the new law called the Prohibition of Child Marriages Act (PCMA), 2006, which replaced the CMRA.

  • Even in the new law, the Prohibition of Child Marriages Act (PCMA), 2006, which replaced the CMRA, this position remains unchanged. • According to the law, a marriage between a boy aged 18-21 years and a girl under the age of 18 years was punishable by up to 15 days in prison and a fine of one thousand rupees.


For Hindus, The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 sets 18 years as the minimum age for the bride and 21 years as the minimum age for the groom. In Islam, the marriage of a minor who has attained puberty is considered valid. The Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Prohibition of Child

Marriage Act, 2006 also prescribe 18 and 21 years as the minimum age of consent for marriage for women and men, respectively. For the new age of marriage to be implemented, these laws are expected to be amended.


What have critics said about raising the age of marriage?

The justifications for raising the age of marriage for women revolve around lowering the dangers of early pregnancy, which is linked to higher child death rates and has an impact on the mother's health.


However, critics have pointed to a number of underlying issues that force women into early marriages, including social stigma, rising dowries, abject poverty, and a lack of female education. They also stated that the law has not been totally effective in preventing child weddings thus far. According to the National Family Health Survey (2019-2021), 23.3 % aged 20-24 were married before they turned 18 years old. Increases in the age of marriage for women have been opposed by child and women's rights activists, as well as population and family planning experts, on the grounds that such legislation would force a large portion of the population into illegal marriages.


They claim that, despite the legal age of marriage for women being kept at 18, child weddings continue to occur in India, and that the rise in such marriages is due to an increase in girls' education and career prospects, not to the current law.


According to them, the law would be coercive and would disproportionately affect marginalised people, such as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, making them lawbreakers.


Some experts, however, have expressed concerns that the proposal could backfire because it does not address the underlying causes of early marriage, such as poverty, patriarchal attitudes, and a lack of access to education, and that if these root causes are not addressed, an age change could cause more harm than good. “The bill is well-intentioned but thoughtless,” says Mary John, professor at the Center for Women’s Development Studies, a research and advocacy organization. According to her, many of the indicators that the government is trying to address, like maternal mortality, will not be solved by simply raising the age of marriage.

“An anemic woman will remain anemic, whether she gets married at 18 or 21. She stops being anemic only if she gets better health and nutrition,” John told VOA.[5]


Conclusion

Every law which tries to bring about some social reform takes decades or even centuries (like in case of Sati Pratha) to finally get implemented in the entire social fabric. So, we need to start somewhere and take the first step. At least by bringing this law this issue will be in the limelight and if not now then surely for decades to come this evil of child marriages will be completely eradicated I hope this will soon implemented because we girls are not ready physically to give birth before 22 biologically Giving birth in young age cause many prob in girls which you can't imagine how painful and weak our body get The Union Cabinet on Wednesday (December 15) took the decision to raise the legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years. Men have to be 21 years old to marry. The government would bring the marriage age for men and women to the same level with this decision.

[1] Sangeeta Barooah pisharoty, we were progressive in our thinking': jaya Jaitly women's marriage age move critisism/ the Wire,dec 29,2021,2 [2] https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/ls-sends-bill-to-raise-womens-age-at-marriage-to-standing- committee/article38005616.ece [3]Sangeeta Nair, Bill to Raise marriage age for women to 21 years sent to standing committee/Jagran Josh,Dec 29,2021,4 [4] Gloria methri, Minimum Marriage age of women marriage to be raised from 18 to 21 Year's as Cabinet Clears Proposal, Republic Word,Dec25 at 2 [5] Suhasini Sood, India could raise marriage age for women from 18 to 21, VOA news, Dec 25,2021 at 2