• Somya Maan

From Girls to Brides

Background

PM Narendra Modi hinted at raising the legal age for women to marry during his Independence Day speech in 2020. He said that “the Government is constantly concerned about the health of daughters and sisters & that in order to save women from malnutrition, they must marry at the appropriate age."


As of now, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 sets 18 years as the minimum age for the bride and 21 for the groom. The Government, therefore, intends to amend the Acts and personal laws to finally raise the age of marriage for women from 18 to 21.


Why is there a minimum age? What's the need for an amendment?

Essentially to outlaw child marriage. This is done through some special legislation. But we should note that the difference in age of marriage arose out of the outdated perception that women mature earlier than men and therefore should have a lower age of marriage.


The amendment is being made by the Centre due to several reasons, such as:

  • Ensure gender neutrality, to provide equal rights to men and women to enter into matrimony.

  • Improve nutrition levels, mental wellbeing, and sex ratio at birth

  • To lower the maternal mortality and infant mortality rate

  • Raising the age of marriage is the Task Force committee's main recommendation along with suggestions like access to education, safe transport to schools/colleges, sex education, etc.

  • According to the Govt, the recommendation was never relative to population control. Recent National Family Health Survey data has shown that the Total Fertility Rate is declining and the population is under control, so the idea behind the recommendation has been women's empowerment.


Legal Implications

The bill (amends Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006) will supersede all personal laws, the Ministry has proposed amendments in:

  • Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872

  • Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936

  • Special Marriage Act, 1954

  • Hindu Marriage Act, 1955

  • Foreign Marriage Act, 1969

  • Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937


THE OPPOSITION DISLIKES THIS HASTE & other critics

The opposition members complained that they weren’t consulted. It was also commented that “the bill encroaches on women’s autonomy” and the minorities are against the proposed law. (YouTube Link)

Critics have pointed out a multitude of underlying issues — social stigma, escalating dowries, abject poverty, and lack of female education – that force women into an early marriage. Reacting sharply to the proposed bill Moulana Pasha who is the President of Amarat-E-Millat-E-Islamia Telangana and Andhra Pradesh said that “The Bill is nothing but the intrusion in the Muslim Personal Law, in Islam, a Muslim girl can get married once she attains the age of puberty, the passing of the bill will invite certain issues to the Muslim girls”.


However, the bill has been referred to a standing committee, after the uproar from several opposition leaders. The Hindu reported that Trinamool MP Sushmita Dev is the only woman member of the parliamentary panel that will examine the Bill.


Through the apt execution of the amendment, the bill can no doubt bring wonders for young women as it can help them pursue higher education and make a career without the underlying pressure of having to marry within a stipulated period. But this 'apt execution' is again a matter of doubt, atleast at this stage.

~ Somya Maan


Sources: The Print, TOI, BRUT India, Indian Express