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Minding The Gender Gap: Pros And Cons

Today, women stand on equal footing to men in all spheres of life. Equality basically emanates from equal laws. Gender equality in particular refers to human rights and not just female rights. The regressive perception of society is that marriage provides social security to women and this perception has exposed women to several issues. The change in fundamentals of laws would enable progressive perception in society. Equality in marriage age may fillip women empowerment as well.

The Union Cabinet has proposed for minding the marriage age of both the sexes and it is certainly a progressive step. The proposed scheme basically realizes fifth goal of SDGs. However, sometimes good intent fails to bring favorable outcomes. The change in fundamental laws without societal support often fails to deliver its object and aim of larger good to the community.

India being a diverse nation state is backed by both the general laws and the personal laws. The current law for Hindus, The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 states that the minimum age of marriage for a girl is 18 years and 21 years for a boy. The Muslim law states that once a minor attains puberty, the marriage held stands valid. Talking about other legislations, The Special Marriage Act, 1954 and The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 also prescribe the minimum age as 18 years and 21 years for girls and boys respectively.

Unlike the national laws, there are certain international laws that talk about marriage regulation. India is a party to Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of discrimination against Women (CEDAW) since 1993 and Article 16 of the mentioned convention talks about strict prohibition of child marriage. This article also asks the government to identify as well as enforce the minimum age of marriage for women.

Also, India's legislations are in consonance with international tools such as Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948. The municipal and international laws urge for setting up the minimum age of marriage to prevent the abuse of minor. As discussed, the age of girls is three years less to that of men and it simply exposes them to early pregnancy, malnutrition, education related issues and to violence as well. Early pregnancy not only causes problem to young mothers but it's also associated with increased mortality rate.

When the marriageable age is made equal, the women will be protected against early marriage and this monumental step will ensure them their basic rights. Section 2(a) of the Special Marriage Act sets the minimum marriageable age as 18 years and 21 years for girls and boys respectively but there lies no justifiable logic behind it. Hence, bringing equality in marriageable age brings gender parity. Also, equal laws simply emanate equality and with equality progressive societal aspects are achieved. Increase in marriage age of women would facilitate empowerment. Schemes like UJJAWALA, Mudra Yojna and Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojna have shown that women are the largest section of beneficiaries.

Though the objective may look good but increasing the age without social awareness and also legislation with no majority consent will not benefit the community that was actually to be served. The scheme also rejects the argument that we lack in access to good health care. Women who are not financially independent are still under the yoke of families and societal pressure.

The laws relating to prohibition of child marriage are in effect since 1900s, still child marriage persists. As per data, one in every five marriages was child marriage, yet no criminal records for child marriage were made. We have failed to eliminate marriages of women below 18 years, so no evidence lies in the fact that it would be eliminated by increasing the age to 21 years. Also, we have patriarchal society where the change in minimum marriageable age of women will increase parents authority over young adult women.

In concluding remark, it can be stated that justifications pertaining to biology, society or data cannot justify the inequality that exists between ages of men and women. Government must ensure good investment on disadvantaged class and this would enable them basic human rights as well. The safety issues need to be addressed at large. Equality could also be ensured by bringing change in behavior of parents.

The focus must be on creating social awareness and equality in respect of education, job, rights and change in patriarchal society need to be focused upon prima facie. Such equality will for sure fillip empowerment rather than just increasing marriageable age of women. It's high time that India should be among that one nation state where women live with their head held high.

Written By: Akriti Sinha, Central University of South Bihar, Gaya

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