Hello, friends! Recently, the Cabinet passed a proposal, to increase the minimum age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years old. Claiming that it will lead to Women’s Empowerment. So then why are some people criticizing it? What can be its benefits? And what is the real issue with Child Marriage? Come, let’s understand it in today’s video.
“The Union Cabinet has passed a proposal to raise the legal age of marriage” “…from 18 years to 21.” We can’t prevent that. “Is this a step in the right direction?” Does it address the underlying cause of early marriages? In June 2020, the Ministry of Women and Child Development formed a task force headed by Jaya Jaitly. Talking to the Indian Express, Jaya Jaitly said that the reason behind increasing the minimum age for marriage the agenda wasn’t population control. Because India’s population has already been controlled. According to the latest data, the total fertility rate in India has already fallen below 2.0. So there’s no need to be concerned about it.
Their main agenda was to tackle the issues related to motherhood. Like the maternal mortality rate. And to reduce the deaths during childbirth. For this, they took feedback from 16 universities talked to 15 NGOs, and then it was decided to raise the age for marriage. But obviously, the underlying issue here is of Child Marriage. When girls are married off at a young age, the chances of death during childbirth increases.
The question then arises, why are some people criticising this decision? There are mainly 2 points of objection. The first objection was raised by Rajya Sabha MP Priyanka Chaturvedi. She shared this clip of a newspaper on Twitter Showing the names daughters are given in some places in India. ‘Dhapu,’ meaning Fed Up. ‘Ramghani’ as in ‘O Lord, that’s enough.’ ‘Antima’ as in Hopefully this will be the last girl child. ‘Faltu’ or useless. Obviously, this reflects that in some areas of the country, how society perceives girls and women. Priyanka Chaturvedi says, that there is a need for a societal change and legislative interference wouldn’t make any difference.
She said that 79% of the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ budget is spent on ads. And the government isn’t doing anything on the ground. In my opinion, this objection is a Logical Fallacy. False Binary Logical Fallacy. Here, two unrelated things are being compared. I agree that the Government is in the wrong for spending so much on ads, but what does it have to do with this decision? It isn’t that had the marriage age not been raised, then that could’ve brought about a change in society. In fact, the task force on whose recommendation this Bill has been introduced has put forth more recommendations for bringing about societal change. Like increasing the accessibility for women in schools and colleges. Easing the transportation for women to schools and colleges. And also focus on skill development and business training.
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The committee has even said that till the time the other things are implemented, this law wouldn’t be very effective. Let’s talk of the second objection. The point of the second objection is Freedom of Choice. CPM politician Sitaram Yechury has said that when a woman becomes 18 years old, she gets the right to vote. She is treated as an adult, but when it comes to marriage, she will be treated as a juvenile. How can it be? Similarly, the AIMIM Cheif Owaisi said that the Modi Government behaves like an uncle from your neighborhood.
If an 18-year-old woman can choose her MP and MLA, she can choose the Prime Minister of the country, can start her business, can sign contracts, but can’t marry of her own will. In the opinion of the people raising this point of objection, the legal age of marriage for both men and women should be 18 years. The same thing was suggested in a 2018 Law Commission Report. That men and women should be allowed to get married at the age of 18. In fact, if we look at the trend worldwide, we can see a similar thing in the other countries. According to the United Nations, 180 countries have the age of marriage for men at 18 years. And in 158 countries, women are allowed to get married at 18 years of age.
Here comes a big question. Why wasn’t the marriage age of men reduced to 18 years? So that it could be 18 for both? Instead, they decided on the complete opposite. The age was raised to 21 years for women. It’s 21 years for both now. To know the answer to this question, we need to understand the problem of child marriage in the country. According to the estimates of 2019, more than 1.5 million girls in India weren’t 18 years old at the time of their marriage. If we look at the global numbers of child brides, one-third child brides of the total, are from India.
And the most shocking fact, According to the 2019-21 NFHS data, 23% of marriages in India are child marriages. Can you imagine? More than one-fifth of the marriages in India are child marriages. Does that mean that so many people are violating the law? To understand this, we need to go into history. About 100 years ago, in 1917, some women came together to establish the Women’s Indian Association. An association to raise the issues related to women. That was under the British Rule. So the social issues they considered important, were raised in front of the British Indian Government. Some of these women were But unfortunately, the Britishers were interested in bringing these social reforms. So these women approached the Indian Freedom Fighters. And laid their claims to them. Requesting them to raise the issues relating to women. In 1929, on Gandhi’s advice, Harbilas Sharda introduced a Bill, to restrain child marriages. The Women’s Association rallied on the roads supporting it. Using placards saying that any person opposing Sharda Bill will be laughed at by the world.
Under this pressure, the British India Parliament finally passed the law the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929. According to this act, the minimum marriage age for girls was fixed at 14 years. And for boys at 18 years. But actually implementing this law did not bring any benefits to the British. So they didn’t really try to popularise this act. Or to implement it on the ground level. That’s why there weren’t many changes on the ground. The next major step was taken after the Independence. In 1949 when the minimum marriage age for girls was raised from 14 to 15 years. And then in 1978, it was raised even further from 15 to 18 years old. And in the same year, this age was raised for men from 18 to 21 years old.
Under this act, the offences were now cognizable. Before this, if you complained about a child marriage taking place, then action could be taken based on your complaint. But now, the authorities could take action on their own, even if no one complained about it. This was a major difference. And a very important one. Because normally, who would complain about child marriage? But now the authorities, the government and the police, could take action on their own. But even after this, the authorities were hardly concerned. They weren’t much interested in preventing it. And when a child marriage did take place, they believed in letting bygones be bygones. And ignored it.
The ground reality didn’t change much. The most important change took place in the year 2006. The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. This was the first time that child brides were given the option to have their marriages declared void. That they could cancel their child marriage. Before this, they had to go through divorce once the child marriage had taken place. But now, they didn’t need to take a divorce, if someone was a victim of child marriage, they could go and complain and their marriage would be canceled. Without needing a divorce. Section 3 of the Act stated, that every child marriage is voidable. But it was subject to a condition.
There was a time limit for this rule. 2 years after attaining the marriage age. Meaning that if someone was a victim of child marriage, and they wanted to declare their child marriage void, they could do so up to 2 years after attaining the legal minimum age for marriage. For men, it was 21+2, up till 23 years of age. And women could get it done by 18+2, 20 years of age. Once that age limit crossed, the child marriage couldn’t be cancelled after that. And this was a big loophole in the law. Child marriages weren’t automatically void. They were voidable. They could be declared void. But how many people got them declared void? Especially when an age limit was set for the children. Was 20 years a sufficient age limit for the girls?
A 20-year-old girl generally lives with her family. So when the parents wouldn’t agree, how could she independently go and get her marriage declared void? There were some cases where child marriages were automatically void. Mentioned in Section 12 of the Act. Like if the parents or guardians of the child weren’t present at the wedding. Then it would be automatically void. But in the rest of the cases, they were voidable. They had to apply to get it declared void. And most people did not try to do it. Things were so weird, that till 2017, the age of consent for physical relations for girls, was 18 years. But for a child bride, the same age was 15 years only. So in a child marriage, marital rape was legal.
There was an NGO, named Independent Thought, it had filed a petition in the court regarding this. To complain about this. And thankfully, our Supreme Court took an action regarding it. The bench of Justice Madan Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta criminalized marital rape for girls below the age of 18. But the biggest question to arise here is Why isn’t a simple law formed? That if any child below the age of 18 is married off, then it couldn’t be legal under any circumstance. Children aren’t cattle to be handed over to others even if they aren’t 18 yet.
Not only this, in my opinion, this should be criminalized. When a child marriage is taking place, the parents of both sides, that consent to the child marriage should be punished in some way or the other. Theoretically, in Sections 9, 10 and 11 of the 2006 Act, have the provisions of levying punishments. Imprisonment for up to 2 years. And fine up to ₹100,000. But when the Act also contains that the child marriages are avoidable, but not automatically void, how would this law work? That’s why even today we can see, that 23% of all marriages are child marriages.
Hundreds of thousands of girls are married off at such a young age, but the cases registered regarding it is only a handful. Between 2014 to 2016, a mere 1,785 cases were registered only. And how many of these cases resulted in convictions? Only 274 cases. And surprisingly, of the cases that are being registered, and those that result in a conviction, most of them are cases where the couple had eloped. The cases of elopement. This was found in a study of 83 verdicts from the High Courts and District Courts by PLD, a Delhi-based group.
They conducted this study and found that 65% of these cases, were of elopement. One thing is very clear here, friends, the authorities are taking almost no action to deal with the problem of child marriage. We need to have a true, total, blanket ban on a marriage of a child below the age of 18 years. And friends, this problem isn’t seen only in India. Many countries around the world have the same problem. According to a 2010 UNFPA report, in 158 countries, the legal age for marriage has been set at 18 years. But in 146 of these 158 countries, the law allows the child marriage of girls with the consent of parents. If the parents consent to it, the countries allow child marriages. Let’s look at the example of the countries that have taken progressive steps for this issue.
Tanzania in Africa, it has a rule that if the parents allowed, a 15-year-old could get married. But in 2016, the High Court of Tanzia stated that it is unconstitutional And declared all marriages of children below the age of 18 as illegal. This rule existed n Norway as well, In 2018, Norway’s court declared a blanket ban on marriages below the age of 18. Their Minister of Child and Equality said that all marriages should be based on free consent on informed consent, and full consent. So that they are aware of the consequences of getting married. In Indonesia, a similar law was passed recently.
They have the age of marriage set at 21 years, but girls can be married at 19, if the parents agree. So let’s come back to the Bill, raising the marriage age to 21 years by the Modi government. In my opinion, this is a good decision. Because it is fundamentally against child marriages. When the age limit is raised so much, hopefully, it will motivate people to have marriages at that age limit. But at the same time, I’d say that this is an empty promise. If it doesn’t come with the decision that all child marriages are illegal, then this decision would not bring about much change on the ground. Because the existing law relating to it maintains that child marriages are voidable. And not completely void. Then the implementation of the new decision would be almost nil. If it doesn’t come with this step. Overall, changing the mindset of the whole society is extremely difficult. It is a very slow process.
Why wasn’t the age set at 18 years for both girls and boys? Why was it raised to 21? It is argued that the age to vote is 18, for setting up a new business, it is 18, but in my opinion, it has a very simple answer. think about it, an 18-year-old boy or an 18-year-old girl, where are they in terms of career? They would’ve just passed 12th grade. Not even in college yet. A career is farfetched when they don’t even have a job. An 18-year-old person doesn’t have any source of income. In such circumstances, if a girl has a child, where would they get the money to raise the child?
How would an 18-year-old person get the time to care for the child? This affects the mental health of the newborn as well. Several people claim that girls are being denied a basic Human Right here By not letting them get married. In my opinion, it isn’t a human right to get married at the age of 18. No one is being prevented from falling in love. Or being in a relationship. Or if a boy and a girl are not being allowed to live together. All of it is still allowed. The age limit of 21 years set by the government, gives a nice time gap for safety, so that people could settle into their lives and careers. And have children only after that.