Indian Government to increase Women’s legal age for marriage from 18 to 21
Written by: Tanya Sharma, Student, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun
“We have a vision where women and girls live in dignity, are healthy, have choices and equal opportunities”.
Union Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman during the Budget speech of 2020-2021 announced the decision of Indian Government to increase the women’s legal age for marriage from 18 to 21. She proclaimed that the decision is important and will be looked into again within the span of next 6 months. For this, the government has formed a High-Level Committee to go into the matter and submit its recommendations by July 31. There will be a ten-member task force which will have its members from Secretaries Health, Women and Child Development, Law and School Education. The Committee will be headed by former Samata Party President, Jaya Jaitly and will have among members V.K. Paul, Member Health, NITI Aayog. The task force committee will examine the matters related to motherhood and marriage at an early age. It will mainly examine the matters concerning the age of motherhood, imperatives of lowering maternal mortality rate, improvement of nutritional levels and other issues related to it.
NEED FOR SUCH DECISION
The data on several reports reflects that girls who are married before the age of 18 years are more likely to experience unwanted pregnancies, becomes vulnerable to Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) and face a greater risk of pregnancy related complications and maternal mortality. This all becomes possible due to lack of proper education and access to health care, antenatal care, skilled child delivery and the complete vaccination to the infants. According to a report by NCBI, Infant Mortality and death of young children becomes significantly higher in children who are born to mothers married at an early stage.
HISTORY OF LAWS CONCERNING MINIMUM AGE OF MARRIAGE
The law states a minimum age of marriage to mainly outlaw child marriages and prevent abuse of minors. The Indian Penal Code enacted in 1860 criminalized sexual intercourse with a girl below the age of 10 years. In addition to this, Age of Consent Bill, 1927, was passed which made marriage invalid if done with a girl under 12 years of age. Later, in 1929, the Child Marriage Restraint Act set 14 and 18 years as the minimum age of marriage for women and men respectively. This law is popularly known as Sarda Act after its sponsor, Harbilar Sarda, a judge and a member of Arya Samaj. The first social reform issue taken up by an organized women’s group in India was The Child Marriage Restraint Act. This group pressurized many politicians into supporting the Act by picketing their designations, holding placards and shouting slogans. They believed that they would show the world that India is serious about social reforms after passing of this Act.
Sarda Act remained a dead letter during the colonial period of British Rule in India. The reasons were that Britishers did not want to earn the displeasure of the communal elements among the Hindus and Muslims and secondly, the Princely States were exempted. But after Independence, the Indian Government became serious on this issue and framed another act which was named as The Special Marriage Act, 1954. In 1978, the Sarda Act was amended and since then the minimum legal age for marriage has been 18 years for women and 21 years for men. In 2006, Prohibition of Child Marriage Act was enacted which also prescribed 18 years and 21 years as the minimum age of consent for marriage for women and men respectively. This act is also backed with strict punishments.
VARIOUS OTHER LAWS
Other laws are Personal laws of various religions that deal with marriage having their own standards, often reflecting customs. In Hinduism, Section 5(iii) of 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 under personal laws.
Women today are matching heights equal to men in every field, they have proved themselves as dynamic, vibrant, sincere and perfect but unfortunately due to orthodox thinking of some people in our society, this problem is becoming a serious concern. In 2005-2006, 44.5% of women between the ages of 20 to 24 years in India were reported of being married before 18 years of age. As per a UNICEF study, around 27% of the women in India are married before turning 18. Girls in the age group of 15 to 19 years died due to issues during pregnancy and childbirth in the year 2017. The number of deaths of women during pregnancy and childbirth in 2000 was 103,000 while the number has now decreased to 35,000 in 2017. Thus, women should be made educated and independent instead of marrying at an early age.
Thus, it would be concluded that-
“Educating girls is one of the most powerful tools to prevent child marriage”.
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