The Union Cabinet on 15th December, Wednesday decided to raise the legal age of marriage for women in India, i.e from 18 years to 21 years, making it equal to the legal age for men.
The decision by the cabinet came after a recommendation from a panel led by Jaya Jaitly, a former Samata Party president, and also included a NITI Aayog member (Health), Dr. VK Paul, and others. The law regarding legal age for marriage came into action for the very first time in 1978 to prevent child marriages, and minor abuse.
The task force to revamp the legal age of marriage for women was set up by Women & Child Development Ministry to examine issues such as infant mortality rate, maternal mortality, and nutrition among mothers and children. Not only this, but Jaitly also stated that the other reason for this revamp is related to women’s empowerment and gender equality.
The recommendation for the change came out of various feedbacks received from young adults irrespective of their religion as well as from urban and rural areas from over 16 universities across the country.
However, the legal age is not standard for all religions in India. Instead, the Personal laws of each religions have their own standards of marriage.
On one hand, where Hindus follow the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, which allows the legal age of 18 and 21 (for male and female, respectively) for marriage, Islam states that anyone who has hit puberty can be considered valid for marriage.
The committee has handed out a timeline to the government through which the implementation and amendments of the policy can be carried out swiftly.
The data from the recently released National Family Health Survey (NFHS) states that Child marriage has decreased exponentially, from 27% in 2015-16 to 23% in 2019-20 in India, with the Modi-led government planning to bring it down even further.
However, child and women rights activists, population and family planning experts have stated that the increase in legal age will pave way for more illegal marriages in the nation. As, even with the legal age being 18 for girls in respect to marriage, child marriages continue. And whatever decrease has been seen is because of education and employment opportunities for girls.
Nonetheless, marginalized communities will continue doing marriages below the legal age, thus making them lawbreakers, therefore the change will leave nothing but a negative impact on the population. The result of the new amendment will be visible only after a few years which has to be awaited patiently with looking forward to positive changes.
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