India has decided to increase the minimum marriage age for women from 18 to 21 years. The decision was announced by the Union Cabinet on Wednesday. Through this, new laws are going to be enacted in India to make the minimum age of marriage for men and women equal. Under the existing law, the minimum age of marriage for women is 18 years and for boys it is 21 years. The new law recommends 21 years for both. However, critics say that child marriage cannot be prevented by this law. Rather, it will have a negative impact on marginalized people. News from The Indian Express.
What are the laws in India regarding minimum age of marriage?
It is important to set a minimum age for marriage to prevent child marriage and child abuse. In India, according to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the minimum age for marriage for Hindu girls is 18 years and for boys it is 21 years. The Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Child Marriage Prohibition Act, 2006 also set the minimum age for marriage for women at 18 and for men at 21. Now it is believed that these laws will be amended to implement the newly announced minimum age for marriage for girls.
Why the Indian government decided to raise the minimum age for marriage
The Indian Express reports that in addition to setting the same age for marriage for men and women, a number of other factors have played a role. The Narendra Modi government’s argument is that if women get married at an early age, they are more likely to get pregnant at an early age. There is a risk of not ensuring adequate nutrition for mother and baby. It can also affect their physical and mental health. There is also a risk of increasing infant mortality rate and maternal mortality rate. In addition, getting married at an early age reduces women’s chances of studying and working.
According to a recent report released by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), child marriage has declined by 23 percent in 2019-20. In 2015-16, the rate was 26 percent.
What is Jaya Jaitley Committee?
In June 2020, the Ministry of Women and Child Development of India formed a task force. The task force’s task is to examine the relationship between the age of marriage and other social indicators, including women’s nutrition, anemia, maternal mortality and infant mortality. Former Samata Party president Jaya Jaitley is leading the committee.
What the committee has recommended
The Jaya Jaitley Committee recently recommended raising the minimum age of marriage for girls to 21. This recommendation is based on the views of the youth of 16 universities of the country. More than 15 NGOs have worked to reach out to the youth living in remote areas and marginalized communities. The committee members claimed that the survey was conducted in urban and rural areas alike. The young people who took part in the survey were of different religions.
In addition to raising the age of marriage, the committee has also recommended increasing the facilities for women in schools and colleges. Transportation to these educational institutions from remote areas has been asked to be arranged. Emphasis has been placed on sexual health education in schools.
The committee thinks that these initiatives should be taken very soon. Otherwise the law cannot be enforced. There should be a massive public awareness campaign on raising the age of marriage. The society has to be motivated to accept the new law. They think that these will be more effective than coercive measures.
That’s what the critics are saying
Indian women’s and children’s rights activists and population and family planning experts are not in favor of raising the age of marriage. They fear that if such a law is enacted, many people will choose the illegal path for marriage.
Experts say the existing law, which sets the minimum age for marriage for women at 18, does not prevent child marriage in India. They think that the reason for reducing the rate of child marriage is not the existing law. Rather, the reason is the increase in women’s education and employment opportunities.
According to critics, the new law will eventually become a law of repression and will have a negative impact, especially on marginalized sections of society. They will be shown as violators.