Is it right to increase the age of marriage of women to 21?
In the recent session of Parliament, the government introduced the Prohibition of Child Marriage Amendment Bill 2021, to raise the age of marriage for women from 18 years to 21 years.
The bill was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth and Sports.
Do you welcome the move to raise the age of marriage for women to 21 years in order to make it equal to the age of marriage for men?
- The law should prescribe a minimum age and I think 18 years is as good as any. It should continue to be a legal presumption, and there is no reason, therefore, to raise it to 21 years.
- If you look at urban metro cities, where girls are getting educated, that is one section of society that has moved ahead. And that section of society also needs certain protection by the law. But the issue here is of effective implementation of the law. Unless that improves, we are going to have problems of whether the age of marriage for girls is 18 years or 21 years.
An attempt to encroach on religious laws
- It has been happening for the Muslim community for a long time, even before Independence.
- The British government brought the Shariat Application Act way back in 1937, and two years later, we had the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, which codified the divorce law and gave the right to Muslim women for divorce.
- Then came the 1986 Act [Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act]. Because we don’t have fully codified laws, we have had piecemeal legislation.
- In the 1986 Act, which came after the Shah Bano case, Parliament intervened on the demand of these very religious groups who don’t want parliamentary intervention now. The groups asked Parliament to override the Supreme Court judgment, which was in favour of Shah Bano.
- And then we have the triple talaq legislation where again Muslim women demanded an intervention by the state to end this practice.
- Hindu Marriage Act, which was codified in 1955. It includes the Sikhs and the Buddhists, who are religious minorities. So, the state recognises that each community is to be governed by their personal laws and if there are problems with the personal laws, then it steps in. The state has to be there to listen to grievances. The state has to play its role whether you are a majority or a minority.
- All aspects of the personal law such as marriage, divorce and custody are already codified, i.e. passed by Parliament. Christians are governed by their own personal law, and so are the Parsis.
- We are in the 75th year of Independence and Muslims [constitute] 15% of the population of this country. But Muslims are deprived of the legal security which everybody else has. Our tragedy is that even 18 years as the year of marriage for girls is not fully implemented in the Muslim community.
- There have been contradictory High Court judgments: while some have held that the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act applies to the Muslim community, others have held that it does not. The Shariat law, which is again not codified, says the age of marriage is puberty or age 15.
- There are similar proportions of 26.6% in the National Family Health Survey-4 (2015-2016) data. If anything, there’s a slightly better picture on the part of the Muslims compared to the Hindus. So, the popular conception that Muslims are always backward compared to Hindus is not true here.
- But if we don’t reform, the state will step in. The part of the community [that resists reform] will allow the state to step in.
The Bill says that it aims to reduce maternal mortality rates, improve nutrition indicators and ensure access to education and jobs for women. Will a law help achieve these goals?
- Higher ages at marriage correspond with better-off people with better health indicators.
- People who are wealthier marry at later ages.
- Age plays the least significant role in any of these indicators. Anaemia is not affected by age at marriage and it is the cause for our terrible maternal mortality rates.
- Similarly, a poorly nourished woman does not become better nourished because she’s being married off three years later.
- And sex ratio is particularly off because States with the worst sex ratio, such as Punjab and Haryana, have higher-than-average ages at marriage.
- The law is necessary, but it’s not sufficient. If the commercialisation of education continues, how are the poor, especially women and girls, going to access education? If our districts, villages and smaller towns don’t have health facilities, how are women going to access various schemes and programmes? So, these need to simultaneously get addressed.
Many have concerns over the manner in which the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, is implemented and used mostly to criminalise young adults who elope to marry against the wishes of their parents, and have inter-faith or inter-caste marriages.
- Any law when it comes into being does not play out equally for different sections of society. We are a huge country. We have different economic strata, different religions and caste compositions.
- Existing studies show that the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act is not being used to stop communities from holding underage marriages. It is being used by parents of a girl who is in a so-called elopement or love marriage that they are opposed to.
- By the laws of the land, they are young adults who will find themselves at cross purposes with this new law whereby other adults will be able to render their relationships null and void and leave them in a complete legal limbo if not in a criminalised situation.
- Empowerment of women through education should be a priority irrespective of the law.
Visit Abhiyan PEDIA (One of the Most Followed / Recommended) for UPSC Revisions: Click Here
IAS Abhiyan is now on Telegram: Click on the Below link to Join our Channels to stay Updated
IAS Abhiyan Official: Click Here to Join
For UPSC Mains Value Edition (Facts, Quotes, Best Practices, Case Studies): Click Here to Join