The Indian government has preferred to increase the legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years. The Union Cabinet approved a plan to bring men and women's marriageable ages closer together. To guarantee a consistent age of marriage, the proposed Legislation may include adjustments to different personal laws pertaining to marriage of various cultures. The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 [Section 5(iii)] stipulates that the bride must be 18 years old and the husband must be 21 years old. The Special Marriage Act of 1954 and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006 both provide that females and male must be 18 and 21 years old, respectively, to agree to marriage. In his Independence Day speech (August 2020), Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the government would eventually come to a conclusion on the age at which women can marry.
This was in response to the government's decision to form a four-person task team. In June 2020, the Task Force, led by Jaya Jaitley was established. It was established by the Ministry of Women and Child Development to re-examine the appropriate age for females to marry. It provided a report in December 2020. It was advised that women be 21 years old at the time of their first child's birth. The task panel proposed to raise the age of marriage for females from 18 to 21 years. The marriage age was also linked to health and social indicators such as maternal deaths, child mortality, and nutritional standards in mothers and children, according to the proposal. In addition to them, the task group included secretaries from the Departments of Health and Family Welfare, Women and Child Development, Higher Education, School Education and Literacy Mission, and the Ministry of Justice and Law. As per figures from the National Family Health Survey 5, India's Total Fertility Rate (TFR) fell underneath the level of replacement of 2.1 for the first time, denoting that a population boom in the years ahead is highly improbable. Child marriage has also decreased slightly from 27% in 2015-16 to 23% in 2019-21, according to the data.
After this plan is approved, the government would alter the Prohibition of Child Marriage
Act, the Hindu Marriage Act, and the Special Marriage Act to give the proposal a shape. According to reports, the Muslim Personal Law will also be revised to raise the minimum age for women to marry, which is now 15 years. The significance of this proposal is that women, children, households, and society will benefit economically, socially, and in terms of health if marriage is postponed. It will help prevent ladies from becoming malnourished. Sex education should also be regulated and included in the education curriculum, according to the panel. Women's education in polytechnic colleges, as well as skills and management training and lifestyle development, have all been suggested as ways to guarantee that the marriageable age is raised. The task committee recommended that the government devise a thorough awareness campaign aimed at fostering public recognition of the decision, as well as ensuring females' access to schools and colleges, involving mobility in the case of institutes in remote locations.
What does Experts say?
Increasing the marriage age, according to experts, will not work. This is due to the fact that existing legislation aimed at preventing underage marriages is ineffective. In 1978, the age of marriage was raised to 18 years old. Early marriage, on the other hand, began to diminish in the 1990s, when the government began emphasising elementary education for girls and took steps to alleviate poverty. Marriages will become more criminalised as a result of the new law.
According to the United Nations Children's Fund, India has every third child bride in the world, with much more than 1 billion of them marrying before they reach the age of 15. It’s the time for India to look up for uniformity in age of marriage which would help in strengthening the place of women in the society.
This article is written by Tanishq Chandel, of Amity Law School.