Marriage is a social institution. It is given a great prominence in our country. It is not merely considered as a union of two individual but a union of two families and also has a bearing in the society.
Marriage is generally governed by personal laws. But recently this topic was in a great controversy as a new proposal was passed by the Cabinet to increase the minimum age of woman for marriage from 18 to 21. Currently the minimum age of marriage is 18 and 21 years for women and men as prescribed in The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 and The Special Marriage Act, 1954.
So in my article I will be discussing the current scenario, pros and cons of the new proposal. I will be also putting out my opinion on this matter and the main object of this article is to give a brief of the current scenario of this topic and help the readers to come to a conclusion whether the proposal is required or not.
In, India recently the government has proposed legislation to raise the minimum age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years old, bringing it on par with men and saying it will empower women. But many women activists say the planned law would do little to address deep-seated societal problems that result in millions of young girls being married at an age even younger than 18.
“We are doing this so that they can have time to study and progress. The country is taking this decision for its daughters,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said after The Prohibition of Child Marriage [Amendment] Bill was introduced in parliament Tuesday. The action comes more than a year after he said, during an Independence Day speech, that the government is considering raising the legal age of marriage for women.
The government says the aim is to provide equal opportunity to women by giving them more time to complete their education, access employment opportunities, attain psychological maturity before marriage and ensure gender parity.
“In a democracy, we are 75 years late in providing equal rights to men and women to enter into matrimony,” Smriti Irani, minister of women and child development, said in parliament Tuesday.
The proposed law would mark a major change for women in a country where, according to several estimates, about 50 percent marry before turning 21.
The government says the proposed change is also prompted by concerns for the health of women who become mothers at a young age. Early marriages are linked to higher infant mortality and low life expectancy, especially among rural women.
According to Irani, raising the age of marriage for women would help bring down the incidence of teenage pregnancies.
Some experts, however, cautioned that the proposal might backfire because it does not address the underlying causes of early marriage such as poverty, patriarchal attitudes and lack of access to education, and fear that if these root causes are not solved, an age change could do more harm than good.
They point out that although marriages for girls under 18 are currently illegal, child marriages still pose a major challenge in the country — as many as one quarter of women ages 20 to 24 were married before they turned 18, according to the National Family Health Survey, 2019-21.
Some women activists call the bill a token gesture that will not empower women. They say that the government should focus on improving access to educational facilities, which remain deficient, especially in the country’s vast rural areas, better nutrition and health care, and ensure safety and security for .
The main advantage of make the age of thhough the intention may be good to protect girls from child marriage and forcefully becoming a mother in her early or late teenage, in my opinion, and ground realities, this wouldn’t change the scenario much.
Maybe some girls can get to study till her graduation (considering she is not any year behind) if her family is supportive. She can have her lifelong responsibility delayed by a few years.
But unfortunately, child marriages still exist. Women are still forced into getting married below 18 and becoming mothers at quite a young age, where they may not be able to take responsibility of kid(s). In some places, girls are even sold to the groom’s family as a bride. And not just in India, but some parts of the world too. And there is no guarantee her family will let her study till graduation because of fear that they might get educated about her rights as a human at the first place (let’s not forget women are even treated worse than objects in many places, not getting basic human rights).
For this to actually work, we need to change the mindset of people, especially of people in villages and remote areas. We need to teach them how women are empowered nowadays and about what feminism really stands for. Women are people of their own before whatever role she plays in society. Rather than teaching things in our education that would never be of any practical value- we need to teach people about feminism, mental health and age-appropriate sex education.
Some say that teenagers with raging hormones happen to run away and get married. Well, to tackle that, we need a sufficient, practical and non-judgemental education about relationships and age-appropriate sex education. This will make them aware of relationships, anatomy and how to not get carried away by their hormones.
Though this has had criticism from Samajwadi Party MP- ST Hasan, his statement just shows how women are reduced to just baby-making machines. Here is his statement- “The fertility age of women ranges from 16-17 years to 30 years. Proposals for marriage start coming at the age of 16. If the marriage is delayed, there are two disadvantages: one is the possibility of infertility. The second is that children are not settled when one is aging. When you are in your last decade or so of life, your children are still students. We are breaking the natural cycle. I believe that when a girl is mature and attains the age of fertility, she should get married. If a girl is mature at 16, she can get married at 16. If she can vote at 18, why can’t she get married?”
Well, he is surely way behind the present times. Expecting a 16-year-old girl to get married and have kids at age of 16 where even some adults cannot handle such big responsibilities of life doesn’t make any sense. And as for infertility, there are treatments for it now. Any person can decide when they wish to have kids if any. No other person gets to have a say in it. A woman has to go through intense pain for 9+ months, so she gets to make an informed decision when she wishes to have kid if any. And a vote is for 5 years; marriage and kids are responsibilities of a lifetime. So there is no comparison between voting at 18 and getting married & having a child at that age. These statements just voice the patriarchy we have in India (and worldwide) to police women’s bodies. We need to educate people about feminism, relationships and age-appropriate sex education for giving them the power to take informed decisions for themselves which they want and suits them the most. And umm, to not try to control others’ bodies and decisions.