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Raising The Legal Age Of Marriage For Woman In India

To increase the marriage age of woman a bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha. This bill is known as the prohibition of child marriage (amendment) act 2021.The bill increases the marriage age of a girl for 18 years to 21 years. But the bill was opposed by some members. They argued that this bill infringed upon several personal laws in violation of fundamental
rights. They demanded that it must be referred to a parliamentary panel for further scrutiny.

In the 19th century the marriageable age for woman was 10 years. By 1940 it was increased to 12 to 14 years. In 1978 the Indian government has increased the legal minimum marital age for girls 15 to 18 years and for boys 18 to 21 years. 

It is high time we should tackle gender inequality and gender discrimination boldly. The National family health survey found that 23.3 percent of woman in the age group of 20 to 24 years were married before they turn 18. About 6.8 percent of women in the age group of 15 to 19 years were already mothers or pregnant at the time of survey. Just 41 percent of them had more than 10 years of schooling as against 50.2 percent of men. Even in the terms of economic empowerment such as owing a mobile phone, just 54 percent of women own a mobile phone. So, by increasing the legal age to 21 would give them time to pursue education.

There is a requirement of empowering women. The best way is to create opportunities for women to join the labor market. With a rise in the age of marriage they may be able to participate in labor market before marriage. Then it will be easier for them to continue to work even after marriage. This will lead to reduction in fertility rate. It will also give them greater bargaining power to deal with social evils like dowry. So, when a woman joins the labor market there will be an effect on marital status health and economic wellbeing of the household.

Government argues that girls are forced to drop their studies for marriage. By increasing the minimum legal age to 21 would give them time to pursue education. Pregnancy of teenage girls heighten the possibility of higher blood pressure, anaemia and many health issues. This is why raising the age of marriage for girls could help decrease the maternal mortality rate.  Early marriage also cause mental health problems. So increasing the legal age shall reduce the possibility of mental health issues among girls.

Above all this decision was taken to adhere to the principle of gender neutrality. This will make marital age of boys and girls equal. On the other hand opposition's argument is that despite the laws child marriage is practised rampantly all over India. After Covid-19 outbreak, the incidents of child labor has increased across the country. Therefore the problem lies in the implementation of existing laws. It is therefore argued that instead of legally increasing the minimum marital age, the root cause of the child marriage should be addressed.

Opponents to changes argue that government has introduced the bill in a hurry without any consultation with stakeholders. They think that the bill was reflective of the nefarious intentions of the government. The provisions of the bill are contrary to the law commission recommendations that suggests that making 18 years as the uniform marriageable age for both man and woman. The opposition stated that this bill is violates the article 25 of the Indian constitution and is an attack on the personal laws and fundamental rights.

The opposition MPs demanded for referring the bill to a standing committee. The minister of women and child development of India said that the government is ready to refer the bill to the standing committee.

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