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Author: Ayushi Tomar, II year of B.A.,LL.B.

The news

The union cabinet has approved a major reform., and nonetheless it is finally happening.The Union Cabinet has cleared the proposal of raising the minimum age for women from 18 years to 21. Presently, the minimum age of marriage for women is 18 and 21 for men. The government will now look to introduce amendments to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, Special Marriage Act, and the Hindu Marriage Act to bring the plan into action.

“To save the daughters from malnutrition, it is necessary that they are married at the right age,” Modi had said. Raising the age for women is a good move towards women empowerment and ensuring women are on equal footing with men in keeping with the vision of the Constitution on gender equality.

An Insight

The raise of marriage is a good start. In India, marriages before 18 are so common, and we are not talking about high school love marriages but forced marriages. They happen all over India. Families eagerly wait to turn their daughters 18, and when they do, they’re made to marry without giving them any other option. They are made to sacrifice their study and asked to start a family, with no financial independence, no freedom, no second other options, and with no experience. They are impregnated soon after, which sometimes results in premature deliveries and sometimes the death of the mother. She is pushed into a relationship that she may or may not want.Early marriage brings early pregnancies with massive health consequences, complications, and mental health problems.

Is an 18-year-old equipped to deal with all of these? India has always been a patriarchal society and the culture of hypergamy has always been prevalent. There has always been a disparity between women and men.

The Backlashes

But now, there are always some critics. Here’s what they ask:

“ What difference do 3 years make? If you’re forced to pay dowry at 18 or you are forced into a relationship at 18, you will be forced to do this at 21.”

But here is what I have to say… STOP THINKING FROM A MAN’S PERSPECTIVE OR THE FAMILY’S PERSPECTIVE. THINK FROM A WOMAN’S PERSPECTIVE FOR A CHANGE. In 3 years she could complete her education… in 3 years, she could get a job… and in 3 years SHE WOULD PROBABLY FIGHT AND REJECT MEN WHO ASK FOR DOWRY. That is what real progress looks like.

Opposition parties said the proposed legislation was written in “haste,” without adequate consultations, and is an attack on the laws of religious communities. Women’s organizations and gender and legal experts said it goes against the international norm of 18 as the minimum marriage age and takes away sexual and marital freedom of choice for people who are otherwise legally adults.

But let these critics be shown a pragmatic approach.Women have never been allowed to enjoy their liberty effectively. In the rural areas, they are denied proper education either due to the non-availability of resources or they are pushed into household works because of the common belief,“women belong to the kitchen.” They are married off as soon as they reach puberty and are made prey to domestic violence and marital rape. As far as sexual freedom is concerned, people be reminded of the fact that it is not illegal to have a physical relationship before marriage as far as the person involved is major.

Women centric reforms bring holistic changes

Just think about what you have at 18? No degree, a little understanding plus you have just exited the most volatile period of your life, your teenage. Most parents think of their daughters as a mouth to feed; and how do you eliminate that mouth? The answer is “by marrying her off.”

This means the reform should not end here. Raising the minimum age is step 1. Step 2 is outreach and awareness. Make sure girls are put in schools… make sure they get the same meals as their brothers and make sure there is no social stigma of marrying late.

Modern society states that it is a woman’s choice to decide whether to get married or stay single or when to marry. But the fact is most women in India are denied choices. So the higher legal age is the only solution. In fact, it could be a new template for governance in India, reforms that target women.

We have seen so many examples in this country like the abolition of the triple talaq. It was an archaic tradition that had no place in the 21st century. Women-centric reforms bring holistic change and it is a fact. Former Indian Prime Minister has said, “ if you educate a man, you educate an individual… However, if you educate a woman, you educate a family.”

The fact is, when women take the lead, the reforms work out better. Raising a woman’s age is a good idea but we must do more. We must offer more opportunities for Indian women. Force must be on creating social awareness about women’s reproductive health, their individual rights, making them realize to be assertive, educating them and empowering them, or else…. WE WILL NOT ERADICATE FORCED MARRIAGES, WE WILL JUST HAVE DELAYED THEM.

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