The Union Cabinet on Wednesday passed a proposal to raise the legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years, the same as men. This clearance comes over a year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the plan on Independence Day 2020. The proposal is based on recommendations by a task force set by the Centre to examine matters pertaining to age of motherhood, imperatives of lowering MMR (Maternal Mortality Rate), improvement of nutritional levels and related issues.”
Headed by Jaya Jaitly, former member of the Samata Party, the task force’s recommendation came “after extensive consultations with experts, and more importantly with young adults, especially young women as the decision affects them directly”. Jaitly told The Indian Express that the move was to empower women and not control population as data released by NFHS 5 (National Family Health Survey) has already shown that the Total Fertility Rate is decreasing and the population is under control.
As per the Indian Express report, Jaitly said that the task force received feedback from 16 universities and engaged over 15 NGOs to reach out to young people, particularly in rural and marginalised communities, such as in particular districts in Rajasthan where child marriage is quite prevalent. Feedback was taken across religions, urban and rural areas, equally.
Although there were objections from certain quarters, the task force felt it was more important to be guided by the target group.
The task force, set up in June 2020 by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, also included Dr V K Paul of Niti Aayog and Secretaries of the WCD, Health and Education ministries and of the Legislative Department.
It has recommended that a comprehensive public awareness campaign be chalked out to encourage social acceptance of the decision and also sought access to schools and universities for girls, including transportation in the case of educational institutes in far-flung areas.
The committee has further recommended that sex education be formalised and introduced in the school curriculum. Training of women in polytechnic institutes, skills and business training and livelihood enhancement has also been recommended as means to ensure that an increase in marriageable age can be implemented.
Section 5(iii) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 sets 18 years as the minimum age for the bride and 21 for the groom. The Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 also prescribe 18 and 21 years as the minimum age of consent for marriage for women and men, respectively.