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Increasing Age of Marriage for girls

  • Published
    16th Mar, 2023
Context

Under a recent development, the increase in minimum age of marriage for women to ‘21 years’ as provisioned in the Prohibition of Child Marriage Amendment Bill, 2021 would come into effect two years after the Bill is ‘notified’ following its passage in Parliament.

Background:
  • The Ministry for Women and Child Development set up a task force to look into the correlation between the age of marriage with issues of women’s nutrition, prevalence of anemia, IMR, MMR and other social indices.
  • The Bill, currently with the Parliamentary Standing Committee, envisions making the age of marriage of women at par with men.
  • After examining all aspects pertaining to child marriages, including the recommendations given by the task force, the government has proposed implementation of the amendments after two years from the date of notification, in order to provide ample time to citizens to prepare for this momentous reform.

Jaya Jaitly committee and its recommendations:

  • Aim: The committee was made to look at the feasibility of increasing the age of marriage and its implication on women and child health, as well as how to increase access to education for women.
  • Recommendations Made:
    • Age of marriage to be increased: The committee has recommended the age of marriage be increased to 21 years, on the basis of feedback they received from young adults from 16 universities across the country.
    • Increasing access to schools and colleges for girls: The committee also asked the government to look into increasing access to schools and colleges for girls, including their transportation to these institutes from far-flung areas.
    • Sex education: Skill and business training has also been recommended, as has sex education in schools.
    • An awareness campaign: Undertaken on a massive scale on the increase in age of marriage, and to encourage social acceptance of the new legislation, which they have said would be far more effective than coercive measures.

Need for raising legal age:

  • Gender-neutrality: The government decided to re-examine the age of marriage for women for a number of reasons which includes gender-neutrality.
  • Impacts on overall health and mental wellbeing: An early age of marriage, and consequent early pregnancies, also have impacts on nutritional levels of mothers and their children, and their overall health and mental wellbeing.
  • Infant Mortality Rate and Maternal Mortality Rate: It also has an impact on Infant Mortality Rate and Maternal Mortality Rate.
  • Empowerment of women: It affects the empowerment of women who are cut off from access to education and livelihood after an early marriage.

Issues:

  • Based on religion: Personal laws of various religions that deal with marriage have their own standards, often reflecting custom.
    • 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.
  • Illegal marriages: Experts have not been in favour of increasing the age of marriage for women on the basis that such legislation would push a large portion of the population into illegal marriages.
  • Child marriages: Even with the legal age of marriage for women being kept at 18 years, child marriages continue in India and a decrease in such marriages has not been because of the existing law but because of increase in girl’s education and employment opportunities.
  • Negatively impact marginalized communities: Law would end up being coercive, and in particular negatively impact marginalized communities, such as the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes, making them law-breakers.

Prohibition of Child Marriage Amendment Bill, 2021:

  • The Bill amends the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 to increase the minimum age of marriage of females to 21 years.  Further, the Bill will override any other law, custom, or practice. 
  • Under the 2006 Act, a person married below the minimum age may apply for annulment within two years of attaining majority (i.e., before 20 years of age).  
  • The Bill increases this to five years (i.e., 23 years of age).

Supreme Court’s stand:

  • The Supreme Court has ruled that marriage between adults is a fundamental right.   

The question is whether prohibiting marriage for persons between 18 and 21 years is a reasonable restriction on their ‘right to marry’.

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