RAISING LEGAL AGE OF MARRIAGE FOR WOMEN | UPSC | IAS

INTRODUCTION

The central government cabinet has approved the proposal based on the recommendations by the Jaya Jaitley Commission. The proposal suggests raising of the legal marriageable age of the women from 18 to 21 years. It aims to bring uniformity in men and women marriage age and initiate gender parity and women empowerment under sustainable development goal of India. It is also associated with the maintaining the declining fertility rate of the country.

CURRENT LAWS REGARDING MARRIAGE 

  • Traditional society in India believed puberty to be appropriate age of the marriage for women i.e., around 10 years. In 1929, Sharda Act was passed which made the minimum marriageable age 14 and 18 for girls and boys respectively. The age was raised from 14 to 18 for girls in 1978.
  • Currently, the age for marriage has been set 18 for women and 21 for men under the Section 5(iii) of The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872. Whereas Islamic rule suggest girl or boy who has attained puberty at the age of 15 is eligible for the marriage.
  • The minimum age has been prescribed 18 and 21 years respectively for the marriage of the women and men by the Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006.
  • The minimum age set by the government ensures prevention of child marriage as it leads to abuse of minors, early pregnancy, malnutrition, violence and higher child mortality rates.

NEED OF RAISING THE LEGAL AGE 

  • Increasing age will allow girls to complete their education and get jobs. It will make them financially independent and thus, help in decreasing maternal and child mortality rate and prevent child marriages.
  • The difference in psychological well-being of child bride and the adult bride is great. Physical and mental maturity come with the age.
  • Adult women will be able to make life planning and decisions better and perform responsibilities as they are grown mature.
  • Graduate women will be able to access nutrition and government services.
  • According to UNICEF report, every third child bride in the world is from India which get married before the age of 15. Therefore, the objective of the country is to eliminate child marriage by 2030 under its SDGs.
  • Research suggests that educated and healthy women are empowered and thus, empowers their children, families and society.

LEGISLATIVE CHALLENGES IN RAISING THE AGE 

  • There is certain contradiction in regard to this matter as different HCs has given different verdicts on the similar cases.
  • In February 2021, A Muslim couple consisting 17 years old girl and an adult was provided protection by the Punjab and Haryana High Court under the view that their marriage was legal according to personal law.
  • Whereas in similar cases, Karnataka and Gujarat HC held different judgement which says special law is above personal law and sent the minor girl in the care centre. Thus, leading the debate of personal law Vs secular law.
  • Another blind spot is that Child marriage is illegal but not void in the country. For example – According to the provision of the Juvenile Justice Act, the court can keep the custody of the minor if she or he is forced into marriage by the parents or guardian and the minor can decide on the marriage after he or she turns into an adult. The court can interfere only if minor party file petition in the court. Until then it will not be void.

ARGUMENTS AGAINST THE BILL

  • As most of the marriages take place under age 21, thus the enacted law will illegalise a large number of marriages which already happened.
  • It is supposed that penal laws do not bring about immediate changes and take years to get embraced by the society. Thus, raising the age will not create great impact.
  • As per the National Crime Record Bureau Data, most Child marriage cases in the country go unrecognized and are not prosecuted.
  • According to some research, most of the Child marriages take place in backward castes. Therefore, introducing such act will leave negative impact on marginalized communities and force them to become law-breaker.
  • While some believe that decline in the Child marriage is the result of the higher education and job opportunities to the girl and not because of the existing laws.
  •  With an increase number of inter-caste and inter-religion marriages, this Bill if adopted, will deprive them from self-choice marriage till the age of 21.
  • It may increase the issues of feticide because the girl will be allowed to have sex once, she turns adult at the age of 18 but will not be able to marry until she turns 21.

CONCLUSION

  • The flaw in the Special Marriage Act of 1954 can be amended by bringing the equality in the age of the marriage between men and women. The changes can be initiated in the fundamental structure to empower the young women and also those who have been victim of the early marriage. The government must address the issues of equity by providing education, career counselling, skill development and job placements to women.
  • Following are the recommendations given by the Jaya Jaitley Committee:
  • To build more school and colleges and provide transportation facilities to these institutions.
  • Include sex education in the curriculum to aware the girls on their reproductive rights.
  • Offer skill development and business training to empower them financially.
  • Conduct awareness campaigns to spread the message and its significance among society to make the law acceptable.

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