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Why is a bill to increase women’s marriageable age isn’t sufficient for Woman Empowerment in India?

On behalf of Narendra Modi-led, BJP Government Miss Smriti Irani introduced the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill 2021The bill proposes raising the marriageable age for women to 21 years. The bill is intended to implement gender neutrality, lower infant mortality rates, and reduce early age pregnancies, resulting in gender equality and the overall development of women. Irani stated that the bill seeks to amend seven personal laws: the Indian Christian Marriage Act, the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, the Special Marriage Act, the Hindu Marriage Act, and the Foreign Marriage Act. The bill emphasizes equalizing the legal age of marriage for men and women. The bill is backed by a survey conducted by the task force among students across 16 universities of which 70% agreed that the marriageable age of women should be raised to 21years.


According to a 2019 survey, female labor participation in India is 20.3 percent, far lower than in neighboring countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, which have rates of 30.5 percent and 33.7 percent, respectively. The argument here is that even after schemes such as "Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao" and "Mahila E-haat," which are aimed at empowering women, the majority of the female workforce is unemployed and financially dependent. The government must focus on more effective scheme implementation. Provide career counseling, job opportunities, raise awareness, and reduce poverty so that people can invest in their daughters' higher education and career. Indian households are patriarchal. Most people believe that a girl will not be the breadwinner of the household and will leave home after marriage, so poor people invest in their sons' education because they have to choose one due to financial constraints.


The Bill has many positive aspects and motivations. Raising the age of marriage will undoubtedly result in gender equality, displacing the patriarchal belief that women should be younger than men when they are joined in holy matrimony. It will provide adequate time for women who are pressured by their parents to marry at a young age. It will also reduce the number of pregnancies at a young age and the infant mortality rate. However, the majority of child marriages occur among socially disadvantaged groups or as a result of unreported religious customs in households. India is estimated to have 24 million child marriages, but are these cases criminalized? We won't get the desired results if we don't educate the community and raise awareness about the devastating consequences of early marriage. In a recent interaction with a girl who was married off at the age of 17, I discovered that how marriage became toxic for her life. She was married off at the age of 17 as the family had two daughters and since they believed to have got a good alliance who didn’t ask for more dowry she was married off without a second thought. She had her first kid at the age of 19 and by the age of 21 she was a mother with two kids and the third one was born in next year.


The in-laws pushed her to have three children because they wanted three boys. Medically, consecutive births without a three-year gap are fatal to the female body. It can weaken the body in unimaginable ways, but due to family pressure, she had no choice but to proceed. Her family stood by helplessly as they witnessed their daughter's anguish. They deeply regretted marrying off their daughter at such a young age and subjecting her to this hell. While we hear such stories we find that how patriarchy is deeply rooted in our society. Patriarchy can be visualized as an octopus that clenches and sabotages the lives of women. Women are always enslaved on the pretext of cultural and societal pressures. Wonder why has never man’s age been so contentious? Why isn’t the crime rate tied to a man’s marriage age? Why do women have to carry the onus of everything that’s happening in society? Her age, her education, her marriage, her life, everything is a political issue that can have fallouts.


 


Bill in itself is a small initiative it won’t function and bring the desired results unless there is strict implementation of financial schemes supported by the government. The government must understand that women require more employment opportunities, more career-driven educational programs, education support, and awareness in society. The government must try to counsel and advocate seminars and counseling programs in rural outskirts to bring out a change in the mid-set of the crowd to bring out a positive change. Educating the importance of financial independence of women, educating the importance of career how a family is as important as a career is vital. Early age pregnancies its consequences on the medical condition of women everything must be counseled and must be holistically advocated. Overall Women's empowerment is just not is raising the marriageable age but definitely by studying the root cause of those marriages and transforming the rural mindsets.


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