"Women is the companion of man, gifted with equal mental capacity" Mahatma Gandhi
Recently the Central government decided to raise the legal marriage age of women from 18 to 21 years. Bill seeks to amend the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) 2006. This proposed legislation will bring parity to the legal marriage age for men and women. This legislation also contains amendments to the personal law of other communities regarding the marriage age. It will ensure uniformity in society. Without equality, no marriage can persevere as marriage equality is not a choice; it's a legal right for all. Marriage is a language of love, equality, and inclusion. The Hindu Marriage Act 1955 sets the minimum age for brides to 18 and 21 for the groom. It is the same for Christians under the Indian Christian Marriage Act 1872 and Special Marriage Act. Muslims ensure the age of attaining puberty when the bride or groom turns 15.
A necessity for law in marriage:
It is essential to uproot Child Marriage which is possible through special legislation such as the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offence Act 2012. Let’s see some of its pros and cons:
Currently several girls are forced to drop their studies for marriage, and increasing the minimum legal age required to marry to 21 would give them time to pursue their studies and offer an opportunity to pursue higher education.
Another contention is that pregnancies in teenage girls heighten the possibility of high blood pressure, anemia and many other health issues in the mother, and can also lead to severe pregnancy complications that can cause death of the mother. This is why raising the age of marriage for girls could help decrease the maternal mortality rate.
Early marriages also cause mental health problems, as per studies, so increasing the legal age shall reduce the possibility of mental health issues among young brides.
Finally, the decision is also projected as one affirming the principle of gender neutrality, by making the minimum marital age for women the same as that for men.
As per the National Family Health Survey (2019-2021), one-fourth of the women aged between 20-24 years were married before turning 18 years old. After the COVID-19 outbreak, the incidence of child marriages has increased across the world. Therefore, the problem lies in the implementation of the existing laws.
It is therefore argued that instead of legally increasing the minimum marital age, the root cause of child marriage should be addressed in order to bring about a value change in society.
In 2018, the Law Commission of India had suggested decreasing the minimum legal age of men from 21 to 18 years, and recommended keeping both the genders’ minimum legal age to marry as 18 years.
Some girls from especially conservative, regressive and patriarchal families escape their families’ clutches by choosing to marry a person of their choice after turning 18 years old. As a result of the proposed legal amendment, such girls would have to wait for three more years; this period could be misused by families and the wider community to threaten and control such girls.
According to government data from 2019, the average age to marry for women is 22.1 years. This figure has gradually risen over the years, which shows that the change is voluntary. The change has taken place largely as the education rate among women has improved. Therefore, the solution to the problems that the proposed amendment seeks to resolve may lie in enhancing education for girls, conducting awareness programs on the importance of education among communities with low female education rates, and sensitizing young students of both gender about the importance of individual financial stability and the dangers of teenage pregnancies. The aim of this law is also to prevent early pregnancy and thereby protect women's health. We have to understand that, we do not have any panacea or magic formula that can bring gender equality in a snap. We have to raise such a serious issue because it's our right so there should not be a sense of discrimination.
About The Author
My name is Ashutosh Pandey. I am from Pratapgarh, Uttar Pradesh. I am a postgraduate in Sociology. My aim is to serve the country, people and beneficially contribute to society.
Gender equality makes our communities safer and healthier. Countries with greater gender equality are more connected. Their people are healthier and have better well-being. Finding and keeping a healthy work-life balance is possible only through gender equality.
Ashutosh Pandey Limitless Stree Intern
Reaching Sky Foundation