BY – Hridiya Suresh Mathew
The government of India has announced that they will soon increase the legal age of marriage of women from 18 to 21. According to several international organisations such as UNICEF, children of 18 and below are considered as minors and therefore consider marriages before that as ‘early marriages’. A person who is of 18 years and below is considered to be having very weak emotional and physical stability and therefore a person getting into married life at such an early age causes a lot of difficulties. After the law banned “child marriage,” a practice in which girls were married before their puberty, it said that the marriageable age should be 18. Therefore, many girls are forced to get married at 18 itself. But there are still people who get married at 16, due to traditions and norms. In the past 10 years, an increasing number of people have expressed a demand for a change in the marriageable age of women from 18 to 21 years. It is time to think about this issue. Here the paper mainly discusses the historical background of the marriageable age, the present scenario and laws and most importantly why we should increase the matrimonial age of women from 18 to 21 years.
- The United Nations enforced the Convention on Consent to marriages, registration of marriages and the minimum age of marriages in December 1964.
- According to United Nations, the parties should
- Specify the minimum age for marriage
- It also states that any marriage held without full and free consent does not have legal acceptance
- However, India had an Act that prescribed the minimum age of marriage, called the Sarda Act 1929 later renamed as Child Marriage Restraint Act (CMRA) 1929, before the United Nations enforced this convention.
- It is one of the very first laws which was created to prohibit child marriages in India.
- According to the Act, marriage was prohibited to all girls under the age of 15 and boys below 18 years.
- In 1978, the law got amended and raised the minimum age of marriage to 18 and 21 for girls and boys respectively.
- According to the Indian constitution, the person getting married before the minimum age prescribed by the law can be imprisoned for up to 15 days along with a fine of thousand rupees.
- According to a recent survey conducted by the State Bank of India, 35 percent of Indian women marry before they reach the age of 21. In some states, the situation is critical.
- In West Bengal, the average age of marriage is only 20.9 years, and over 47% of females marry before they turn 21, which is worse than Bihar and Rajasthan.
- According to maternal death statistics, the majority of maternal deaths occur in the younger age groups.
- Despite the fact that India’s maternal mortality rate improved to 113 in 2016-18 from 130 in 2014-2016, it remains well behind the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) target of 70 deaths per 1,000 live births.
- According to the most recent bulletin, Assam (215), Bihar (149), Madhya Pradesh (173), Chhattisgarh (159), Odisha (150), Rajasthan (164), Uttar Pradesh (197), and Uttarakhand have the highest MMR (99).
- According to the Global Childhood Report produced by the UK-based NGO Save the Children, child marriage is still more common in rural regions than in urban areas in India, with rates of 14.1 percent and 6.9 percent for the age range 15-19 years in rural and urban areas, respectively.
THE CURRENT LAWS
- According to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1995, the minimum age limit of marriage is kept as 18 years for the bride and 21 years for the groom.
- According to the Muslim Marriage act, the marriage of minor who has attained puberty is considered valid.
- 18 and 21 years is considered as the minimum age of consent for marriage for men and women respectively according to the Special Marriage Act,1954 and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006.
PROHIBITION OF CHILD MARRIAGE ACT, 2006
There is a drastic increase in reports on child harassment and abuse, the main reason being child marriage. Child marriage is an age-old tradition where children below the age of 18 are married off. They are forced to drop out of school and work in households looking after their husband and kids. Being still kids they are often taken advantage of by the in-laws. The law has taken many steps to prevent child harassment, one of them being the Prohibition of Child Marriage 2006. Child Marriage is an offence punishable under the law with imprisonment which may extend to 2 years or with a fine up to Rs 1 lakh. Any offences under this Act are non-bailable and cognisable.
Persons who can be charged in this crime include
- A person who is in charge of the child, including parent or guardian or any other organisations etc
- Any person who is above 18 years (adult) marrying the child
- Anyone who directs or abets any child is punishable under this Act.
- According to PCMA, the minor has the right to repudiate the marriage or nullify it up to two years of attaining majority.
PROS OF INCREASING MARRIAGEABLE AGE
Socio-economic front: Increasing the minimum legal age of marriage is having numerous benefits in both social and economic aspects like lowering the ratio of maternal mortality, increasing/ improving the nutritional levels, increasing the age limit, forcing women to pursue degrees and therefore become financially independent which result in the formation of an egalitarian society.
More female labour force participation: Increasing the age limit leads more females to do graduation and therefore increases the female labour force participation ratio. This can increase the percentage of females graduating by at least 5-8 per cent.
Benefit for both: Another advantage of increasing the age limit is that it makes both men and women gain financially and socially. Marrying at the age of 21-23 will make a person personally healthy, mentally prepared and independent. Women have a greater advantage in this as they become more empowered and independent to take decisions.
No law is effective when the change doesn’t come from within. Increasing the legal age has a lot of benefits among which the most important one is that it helps us to get out of the stereotype mindset in which we have been taught that women become more mature than men of the same age and therefore can be married off earlier.