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Monday, October 3, 2022

Is Increasing the Legal Age of Marriage for Women a Gamechanger?

The Indian government has said that the proposed bill will ensure an equal chance for women to attain higher education and job opportunities

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Mahima Rabia
Mahima Rabia
Journalism student covering India

INDIA: The winter session of Parliament saw discussions held over several crucial bills. One such bill of national significance was the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which has been introduced to raise the age of marriage for women from 18 years to 21 years. 

Gender neutrality in laws like these has been a long-standing demand for activists and feminists working on the issues of gender justice.

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Marriage, as an institution, stands with quite a lot of social as well as legal importance. Thus, it is equally important to scrutinise the bill by going to its depth- thus trying to foresee its on-ground implications in the long run. 

As far as the bill is concerned, the government has said that the proposed bill will ensure an equal chance for women to attain higher education and job opportunities. The government also backs the bill by saying that it will help improve the maternal mortality rate (MMR) and overall nutrition levels of women. After facing criticism and objections from the opposition, the bill was referred to a Parliamentary committee. 

Lapses & loopholes 

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There are several lapses and loopholes in the very idea of the bill. Let us dissect them one by one. 

1. The guarantee of equality: First off, how does simply increasing the age of marriage ensure equal chances for women in education and job? Unless the required laws are brought in place to provide better and equal higher education to women, simply amending the marriage age won’t do much good. If equality is the key concern, then even the reverse can be given a thought- to bring down the age of men to 18 years. 

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2. Disparities in society: India is a highly diverse society and so are its social circles and various marriage laws of different communities. For example, girls in rural areas are married early as compared to girls living and/or working in urban areas. Reasons may differ- social & financial factors, community practice, and so on. Thus, adding three more years to the age of girls’ marriage won’t prove viable.

3. Personal laws vs. this bill: While talking about having a uniform marriage law, one cannot overlook the personal laws that have been there for decades. For instance, Muslim Personal Law, which is not fully codified in the Constitution, differs a lot already. According to this personal law, Muslim girls are eligible to be married at the age of 15. So, here the issue of conflict will remain the same until the Muslim Personal Law itself is codified. 

4. MMR and nutritional levels remain unaddressed: It should be noted that an undernourished woman will not become better nourished just because she is marrying a few years late. This is quite absurd and falls short of reasonable logic. Also, women who come from wealthy and better-off backgrounds only can think of marrying late. The same cannot be guaranteed for the other women. 

5. Child Marriage Act and its misuse: In a number of cases, the parents of a girl who marries due to her wish by going against her parents is tagged as a case of elopement. In such cases, the misuse of the Child Marriage Act is likely to take place. Parents of the girl disregard the marriage. Now, if the age of marriage is raised to 21, the instances of injustice will increase. After all, these girls, who are grown-ups, will lose their say. 

Concluding statement 

Thus, the bottom line is that taking up the age of marriage of girls from 18 years to 21 years will not prove to be an ultimate saviour. Moreover, it will not even help solve the disparities between various marriage laws and practices.

Also Read: Gender Inequality: A Growing Threat for Nigeria

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