Recently, the Union Cabinet cleared a proposal of Bill to raise marriage age of women to bring uniformity in the marriageable age of men and women, by amending the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA), 2006 and other personal law,
Bill to raise marriage age of women
- The Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was introduced in Lok Sabha on December 21, 2021.
- The Bill amends the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 to increase the minimum age of marriage of females.
- Increasing the minimum age of marriage of females: The Act provides that the minimum age of marriage is 21 years in case of males, and 18 years in case of females. The Bill increases the minimum age in case of females to 21 years. The Bill also amends certain other laws relating to marriage to increase the minimum age of marriage of females under those laws to 21 years. These are:
- Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872,
- Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936,
- Special Marriage Act, 1954,
- Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, and
- Foreign Marriage Act, 1969.
- Time period for filing petition to annul child marriage: Under the Act, a child marriage is one where either of the parties to the marriage is a child (i.e., their age is less than the minimum age of marriage). The Act provides that a child marriage may be annulled by the party who was a child at the time of marriage. Such party may file a petition in a district court for a decree of nullity. The petition should be filed before such party completes two years of attaining majority (i.e., completes 20 years of age). The Bill amends this to allow such party to file the petition before completing five years of attaining majority (i.e., completes 23 years of age).
- Amendments relating to the increase of minimum age of marriage of females and time period for filing petition to annul child marriage shall come into force two years from the date of assent.
- Overriding effect: The Bill adds that that the provisions of the Act shall have an overriding effect over any other law, custom, usage or practice governing the parties to the marriage.
- In India, the minimum age of marriage was prescribed for the first time by the law known as the Sarda Act, 1929. It was later renamed as the Child Marriage Restraint Act (CMRA), 1929.
- In 1978, the law was amended to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 years for girls and 21 years for boys.
- This position remains the same even in the new law called the Prohibition of Child Marriages Act (PCMA), 2006, which replaced the CMRA ,1929.
Reasons behind the decision
- Gender-neutrality: With this decision, the government will be bringing the age of marriage for both men and women at par.
- Motherhood complexities: An early age of marriage, and consequent early pregnancies, also have impacts on nutritional levels of mothers and their children, and their overall health and mental wellbeing.
- Mother and Child Mortality: It also has an impact on Infant Mortality Rate and Maternal Mortality Rate.
- Women empowerment: The decision would empower women who are cut off from access to education and livelihood due to an early marriage.
- Protection from abuse: This will essentially outlaw premature girls marriages and prevent the abuse of minors.
Pros of Raising Minimum Age for Marriage For Women:
- Women and Child Welfare: The poverty of the mother plays the greatest role of all by far — both in relation to her undernourishment and that of her child.
- An early age of marriage, and consequent early pregnancies, also have impacts on nutritional levels of mothers and their children, and their overall health and mental wellbeing.
- Women’s Empowerment And Gender Parity: The mother’s age at childbearing affects educational level, living conditions, health conditions, decision-making power of women.
- Tackling Child Marriage: India is home to the largest number of underage marriages in the world. The law will help to curb the menace of Child Marriage.
Cons of raising Minimum Age for Marriage For Women
- Difficulty in Fighting Child Marriage: The implementation of the child marriage law is difficult.
- The evidence suggests that when the law is used, it is mostly to penalise young adults for self-arranged marriages.
- The law to prevent child marriage does not work very well.
- While child marriage has declined, it has been marginal: from 27% in 2015-16 to 23% in 2019-20, according to National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 5.
- 70% of early marriages take place in deprived communities such as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and the law will simply push these marriages underground instead of preventing them.
- Criminalisation of a Large Number of Marriages: The change will leave the vast majority of Indian women who marry before they are 21 without the legal protections that the institution of marriage otherwise provides, and make their families criminalisable.
- Lack of Education is a Bigger Problem: According to the State of the World Report 2020 by UNFPA, in India, 51% of young women with no education and 47% of those with only a primary education had married by age 18.
- Further, a study by the International Centre for Research on Women has found that girls out of school are 3.4 times more likely to be married or have their marriage already fixed than girls who are still in school.
What is the way forward?
Enforce the existing law better: Growing evidence shows that the number of child marriages (under 18) may have increased in many states during the pandemic and lockdown periods. Hence, government should make efforts to ensure adherence to the present law, rather than raising the marriage age.
To empower disadvantaged women, and to ensure that delay in the timing of marriage happen on its own, without the need for legislation, the following steps can be taken:
– Investments in reversing the fundamental structural disadvantages that women who marry early face
– Addressing issues of equity – a) measures that will enable the disadvantaged women to complete their education, b) address safety issues of women in public places including public transportation, and d) change the perceptions of parents as they are the ultimate decision-makers on marriage related decisions for a majority of women.
Jaya Jaitly committee
- In June 2020, the Ministry for Women and Child Development set up a task force headed by Jaya Jaitly along with other members- NITI Aayog member (Health) Dr V K Paul and secretaries of several ministries.
- The committee was to look at the feasibility of increasing the age of marriage and its implication on women and child health, as well as how to increase access to education for women.
- The committee has to recommend a timeline by which the government could roll out the implementation of the policy, as well as the amendments that would need to be made in existing laws.
- The committee received the feedback from young adults from 16 universities across the country.
- Over 15 NGOs were also engaged to reach out to young adults in far-flung areas and marginalised communities.
- Increase the age of marriage to 21 years
- Government has to look into increasing access to schools and colleges for girls, including their transportation
- Skill and business training to girls
- Sex education in schools
- Awareness campaign to be undertaken on a massive scale d to encourage social acceptance of the new legislation
Source: Indian Express