RAISING THE LEGAL AGE OF MARRIAGE: A NEW DYANISIM
Author: Shriyanshi, II year of B.A.,LL.B.(Hons.) from Amity University Lucknow
There were mixed reviews after the Prime Minister of India on the occasion of Independence Day announced to raise the legal age of marriage which now is 18 years. A Task Force was set up and it was widely understood that raising the age of marriage is in relation with the health and nutritional status of a woman. Earlier in the Supreme Court a notice was issued so as to transfer the pending cases before the Rajasthan and Delhi High Court which sought for uniform age of marriage for both men and women, a plea was filed so as to avoid conflicting views on various interpretations of Article 14[i], 15[ii] and 21[iii] and judgements that involve gender justice and equality. It further states that there are various other statutes that discriminate with the legal age of marriage such as Section 60(1) of the Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872; Section 3(1) of the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936; Section 4(c) of the Special Marriage Act, 1954; Section 5(iii) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and Section 2(a) of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006.
Looking back at the abysm of time, we get to see that the Indian Penal Code of 1860 made it a crime if there was any sexual intercourse of a girl below 10 years of age, afterwards, the Consent Bill, 1927 regulated to make marriages with a girl under age of 12 invalid. Regarding the minimum age it was first set to 16 and 18 for women and men respectively under the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 also known as the Sarda Act and was later on amended to 18 and 21 for girls and boys respectively. Seeing the current scenario as was held earlier that the minimum age of marriage for girls is 18 years and for boys it is 21 years, the person attains the age of majority at 18 years according to the India Majority Act, 1875. The same age factor is followed in the Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. The minimum legal age is different from the age of majority which is gender neutral and it is provided in the law in order to avoid any abuse of mirrors and outlaw the marriage of child. There have always been debates for not keeping the legal age of marriage uniform for both men and women and different legal standards such as stereotypes that wives must be younger than husbands as was held by the Law Commission, women activists sustain stereotypes that women mature earlier than men of same age hence they are married off soon. The National Family Health Surveys provides a track of people married in the age group of 20 to 24 years, in the 2015-16 survey depicts that child marriages and late adolescent marriages are declining.In 2018, the Supreme Court of India in Joseph Shine V. Union of India[iv] talked about equality and delivered, “a law that treats women differently based on the gender stereotypes is an affront to women’s dignity.”
Regarding raising the age of marriage, the government has sought to bring in gender equality and promotion of health for both mother and child. It also seeks to overrule all other laws and customs and all those who have been married before 21 years of age can seek annulment up to 5 years which right now is 2 years from the time of attaining majority.
The Bill for raising the age and keeping uniform age of marriage was introduced in the Lok Sabha in December 2021 and was termed as a “decisive step” in the history of country, the bill was named Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021. It was opposed by most of the members and was referred to a standing committee that would indulge into greater scrutiny.“It is also important to bring down the incidence of teenage pregnancies, which are not only harmful for women’s overall health but also result in more miscarriages and stillbirths, she said in the statement of objects and reasons of the bill,”[v]said Smriti Irani. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth and Sports and appointed Vinay Sahasrabuddhe as the head. It was told that that raising the age of marriage “must be accompanied by measures that delay underage marriages such as access to education, and improving women’s safety.” Right now, the bill is stay at delay as it has been given three months extension because of the expiration of the time period of the head of the committee still there have been criticism regarding this bill, the panel has also earlier certified that out of the 95,000 emails it received, 90,000 were against it criticized it. The critics say that although the age of marriage is raised, much of the problems will remain the same as there still would be poverty and malnourishment, some also say that the age of 18 has been recognized internationally, then why there is a need to raise it: women get fully developed by the age of 18, it is a threshold of voting rights, driving licenses, etc, it is the common age for marriages across the world. “If the legal age of marriage for women is raised to 21 and as per the trend of NFHS-4, 56% of Indian women in the 20-24 tears of age group married below 21 and such women in future will not have any legal protection and families would be liable for punishment under new law.”
[i] Indian Kanoon, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/367586/ (last visited Aug 19, 2022). [ii]Indian Kanoon, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/609295/ (last visited Aug 19, 2022). [iii]Indian Kanoon, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1199182/ (last visited Aug 19, 2022). [iv]Joseph Shine V. Union of India, 2018 SCC Online SC 1676. [v]The Print, https://theprint.in/india/modi-govt-introduces-bill-to-increase-womens-marriage-age-to-21-years-in-lok-sabha/785232/ ( last visited Aug, 19, 2022).