Minimum legal age of marriage being raised to 21 – An analysis

M. Manaswini Reddy, Kvrr Law College, Osmania University, Hyderabad.

Introduction

Marriage is a legally recognized union of two people. It creates rights and obligations arising from the same. The two people married would be called spouses. Marriage in India is usually governed according to individual/personal laws and different communities. The prerequisites of marriage are an important step to make it valid and enforceable by law. The common prerequisites for marriage are:

  • Minimum legal age of Marriage
  • Mutual consent
  • Legal ability to get married and abide by the applicable laws
  • Should not be in an existing marriage

[1]Minimum legal marriage age or marriageable age is the generic legal age for a person to get married. Such age of marriage is approved on all levels and checks out all norms of the society. Establishing a minimum legal age of marriage has certain purposes such as prevention of child marriages, prevention of sexual offences with relation to children and child marriages, prevention of forced marriages. The basic purpose is that no woman should be married below the legal age of marriage prescribed. This legal age of marriage applies to all personal laws, individual laws and communities. It is a legally enforceable right.

Child Marriage to Minimum Legal Age of Marriage

Child marriage, child marriage related sexual offences and forced marriages have been on the rise for the past few years in India, the reason for which being poor socio-economic conditions. Statistics show child marriage is 3 times more in the rural areas than that in the urban areas. 28% of the girls get married before the age of 18 as per a survey done in 2011. The result of this was the enactment of legislation for the Prohibition of child marriage Act of 2006. A similar Act was established during British rule; it was called the Sharda Act, to curb the same problem, although it could not change the situation. The Legal age for marriage in India, prescribed by the Indian Government before 1978 was 15 for girls and 18 for boys, which was raised to 18 for girls and 21 for boys in 1978. As of now the minimum legal age for girls is 18 and for boys it is 21, but considering all the above statistics, gender equality, woman empowerment and following international obligations The Prohibition of child marriages (Amendment) Bill was proposed in 2021.

[2]The bill has been introduced by the Central Government in the Lower House that is Lok Sabha in December 2021. It is an Amendment to the Prohibition of Child Marriages Act of 2006. Its objective is raising the minimum legal age of marriage to 21 years. Major reasons for the decision are:

  • Equalized legal age of marriage for both men and women
  • Lowering infant mortality rate and maternal maturity rate
  • Improve understanding of psychological maturity of women
  • Awareness regarding family planning and reproductive rights
  • Following the recent trends and changes of the society
  • Gives opportunity to women to seek their careers and empowers them

Advantages of raising the minimum legal age of marriage

[3]The government’s decision on raising the legal age of marriage certainly has a lot of advantages. Here in evaluated in detail:

  • It affirms the concept of gender neutrality as part of 5 goals of sustainability
  • It is a move taken by government towards  uniform civil code so as to abolish religious civil code
  • It is a conscious effort taken by the leaders of the country at mitigating the gap between genders as per the International obligations ratified by India. Such organizations are the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the Elimination of all forms of discrimination of women.
  • Women are given the opportunity to complete and pursue higher education
  • Child marriages lead to teenage pregnancies that are a health risk for many young girls, raising minimum legal age can remove severe pregnancy complications, reduce infant mortality and maternal mortality rates.
  • Another challenge with child marriages are the mental health aspects that is related to psychological maturity of young girls which can be avoided by this move

Entirely the central government’s decision to increase the minimum legal age of marriage has one sole objective that is to empower women to the best of their abilities, while fostering/protecting for their mental and physical health. This move proves to be for the holistic development of women of every age. With all the benefits that it provides for, it has been presented in the parliament and will be heard at the opening of the session this year.

Criticism

[4]The government’s decision faced a lot of backlash for many reasons few of which are discussed below:

The major factor seems to be economic conditions of poor families, those that cannot feed their children for a long time get their daughters married of early, will now have to wait for 3 more years.

Another factor is if women had the source of income irrespective of their age they would go for higher studies, since they cannot afford it they are ending up getting married early. These two factors highlighted that the move to increase age might not serve any purpose if the economic status is not affected to change for the better in rural areas where the cases of child marriage are more in number. It would not benefit financially dependent women.

[5]Looking at another factor, such decision to change only comes when women are seen breaking all barriers of patriarchal norms and empowering themselves, the problem of gender inequality and gaps has been there since a long time, for example in wage structures and opportunities for same skills both men and women possess, why does it take a revolutionary progress to implement changes that empower women?

Finally, the raise in minimum legal age of marriage may raise instances of elopement there by condemning love marriages causing safety issues for women, all this because legal age of majority is 18 in India as contrary to legal marriage age.

Conclusion

In conclusion, some points must be noted regarding the raising of the legal age of marriage for women. It will apply to all personal and individual laws. There will be a behavioral change in parents and in society since this is a situation where law clashes with societal norms. For customary law driven by religion and community to accept progressive societal changes requires a lot of awareness and education. This decision by the central government will prove to be fruitful only with visible implementation and efforts towards bridging the gaps of gender equality followed by fulfilling the need for a stronger legislation to govern the same.

References


[1]Apurva vishwanath, legal implication of enforcing age of marriage, December 17, 2021.

[2] The leaflet, December 24, 2021

[3]Ambika Pandit, Govt works to raise legal age of marriage for women to 21, December 17, 2021

[4] Vageshwari Deshwal, January 25th, 2022

[5] Siasat Daily, January 22nd 2022.

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