Raising Legal Age of Marriage for Women

I’ve been hearing and learning about the cruelty against women in the world around me since I was a child. Women were beaten, harassed, and domestically violently abused. Females were not allowed to attend a school or be educated prior to the nineteenth century; they were simply taught household chores and then married at the age of 10–12 years to someone they had never met, sent to a family they had never known, and to a place they had never been. In the 19th century era, women were allowed to get educated, but their early marriage acted as a barrier to their education. A woman can go to school until she is married. Child marriage is one of the most heinous crimes against women. Early marriages often lead to early pregnancies, massive health consequences, and mental health problems. Some parents regard their daughter as a mouth to feed, and in order to get rid of that mouth, they simply marry her off.

To this end, in 1917, some women formed an association called the Women’s Indian Association, an association that raised the social issues related to women. But at that time, the British Indian government was ruling the country and they showed no interest in addressing those issues. Those women went to some freedom fighters to get their issues addressed. And in 1929, Harbilas Sharda introduced a bill to restrain child marriages, and rallies were conducted to support the bill, and finally, the British government introduced a bill, “The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929”. Under this act, the minimum age for marriage is 14 years for females and 18 years for males. But the British government didn’t focus on the act or try to implement it at ground level. A major step was taken after independence. In 1949, the minimum age for marriage for women was raised from 14 years to 15 years. In 1978, the government again revised the age and raised it from 15 years to 18 years for females and from 18 to 21 years of age for males. The most important change took place in 2006. The government introduced a new act called “The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006”. This was the first time that child brides were given the option to have their child marriage declared void, i.e., canceled not divorced. But this act also had loopholes. A person can declare his/her marriage as void till 2 years after the minimum age as stated by the act, i.e., women can declare marriage as void till the age of 18 years plus 2 years, which is 20 years, and men can do it till the age of 23 years of age. But till that age, they are not mature enough to decide whether they want to declare their marriage void.

According to the statistics provided by the NFHS, during the year 2019–21, more than 23 percent of the total weddings that took place during the year were child marriages, which accounted for about one-quarter of the total marriages that took place during the year. According to statistics provided by UNICEF, India is responsible for one-third of all child marriages that take place across the world. 

In June 2020, the Ministry of Women and Child Development formed a four-member task force headed by Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) president Jaya Jaitly. The task force of Jaya Jaitly took the feedback from 16 universities and 15 NGOs regarding child marriages and then they took the decision to raise the minimum age of female marriage. On December 15, 2021, the union cabinet introduced a major reform to raise the minimum age for marriage of women from 18 years to 21 years. The next step is to amend all the relevant laws, like The Child Marriage Act Of 2006, The Special Marriage Act of 1954, and all the personal laws through parliament. The main agenda of this reform is to deal with issues pertaining to the age of motherhood, imperatives of lowering maternal mortality rate, improvement of nutritional level and related issues, reducing women’s death rate during childbirth, etc.

But this brings up an interesting question: if increasing the minimum age eliminates all biological issues, is this a step forward in the right direction? Increasing the minimum age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years is beneficial for the female because in these three years she can finish her education, get a job to gain financial independence, and in these three years she will most likely reject the man who asks for dowry, which appears to be real progress. Increasing the minimum age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years is beneficial for society as a whole.

This is a celebration for all of India’s 600 million female citizens. This action is a win for the advancement of women’s rights and women empowerment. Some families can’t wait for their daughter to become 18, at which point they immediately begin making wedding plans for her. With the lack of education, financial independence, and exposure to the outside world, she is being coerced into a relationship that she may or may not desire.

If we compare the minimum age of marriage with other countries, Britain, the United States, France, etc. have 18 years of age as the minimum age of marriage for females, while countries like Qatar and Pakistan have 16 years of age as the minimum age of marriage for females.

The twenty-first century is characterized by the development of contemporary society. And contemporary culture maintains that it is entirely up to the individual woman to decide whether she will marry, or she will remain single, and when she will get married. However, the reality is that the majority of women in India are not given that option, and the decision is not up to them. Therefore, this higher minimum age seems to be the only remaining option in my opinion. I believe that reforms that focus on women have the potential to bring about comprehensive transformation. It can’t be denied. As India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru said, 

“If you educate a man, you educate an individual…

However, if you educate a woman, you educate a family. “

The reality of the matter is that the change is more successful when women take the lead, and I am certain that increasing the minimum age at which a woman may legally be married is a wonderful idea. 

– by Saket Jindal

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