Should India Consider Increasing the Legal Age of Marriage for Women?

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The Honourable Prime Minister of India has recently stated that the government is reconsidering the legal marriage age for women. Currently, the legal marriage age for women stands at 18 years. 

Reasoning Behind This Consideration

The government of India is reconsidering the marriage age for girls to increase it from 18 to 21 years. It believes that this change will have significant outcomes, including, empowered girls and women, increased literacy rate, improved infant mortality rate (IMR) and Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR). According to data released by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Sample Registration system of the Registrar General of India, the country’s Maternal mortality rate declined to 113 in 2016-18 from 122 in 2015-16 and 130 in 2014-2016. Furthermore, increasing the minimum age will have a lot of advantages to society. If the minimum age for marriage increased, the population could be controlled; women/females would not be considered a burden, the rate of literacy would improve, the workforce ratio (females) would improve.

According to a report, in the last five years, 3.76 crore marriages have taken place in India. Among these, 3.76 crores, 1.37 crore girls were married at the age of 18-19 years while 75 lakh girls were married at the age of 20-21 years.

According to a report by UNICEF, 27% of girls in India are married at the age of 18. In comparison, 7% of girls get married at less than 15 years of age, having a direct impact on maternal capacity, mortality during childbirth and the population. 

Every 20 minutes, a mother is dying of childbirth and pregnancy in India, and India has the highest Maternal Mortality Rate, said a report

The above-mentioned data shows that our country needs to regulate a proper norm on marriage age for girls. So, by increasing the legal marriage age, the child can be protected from social pressure and help prevent trafficking. And the change in legal marriage age will bring gender parity in the age of marriage since the present marriage age for men is 21.

Comparing India’s Stance With Other Countries

The minimum age of marriage for girls is determined on the basis of 3 parts. 1) wedding with judicial permission, 2) wedding with parental permission and 3) wedding without parental or judicial permission.

In some countries, the minimum age for marriage has not been determined by law: example, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The minimum marriage age for girls in Lebanon is nine years, in Iran, it is 13 years, in Kuwait, it is 15 years, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Qatar and Britain it is 16 years. And in countries like North Korea, Syria, Uzbekistan, the minimum age for marriage is 17 years. 

In India, America, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, Russia, Brazil and Sri Lanka, the minimum marriage age (girls) is 18. In Algeria and South Korea, the minimum marriage age of girls is 19 years while in Japan, China, Nepal, Thailand, the minimum marriage age of girls is 20 years. In countries like Indonesia, Nigeria, Malaysia and the Philippines, it is 21 years.

So, each country has set its own legal marriage age. The only remedy to keep control of the increase in population is by increasing the legal marriage age. It will address gender equality related issues, and all make our country free from socio-economic problems.

Is This Change Bound to Create Confusion?

Until last year, the government of India tried to reduce the marriage age of boys from 21 to 18 years. But recently it had stated that a committee is formed to analyse the advantages and effects if the marriage age of girls is increased. From the government side, the main purpose of increasing the marriage age is to reduce the population level in our country.

However, the officials stated that the idea was “being met with apprehension for several reasons within the health ministry.” Girls do become sexually active before the age of 21. If the government increases the age for marriage, then several of them will not avail the formal healthcare system for their reproductive or sexual rights.

As per reports, if the marriage age increased, there is a probability of an increase in child marriage. As per law, child marriage is illegal whereas not void, so if the marriage age is increased, then it would create “deeper discrepancy” in the law. The Honourable Supreme court, in its judgement, held that sex with a minor wife is considered as rape. Hence, marriage with a child is voidable, but having sexual intercourse is illegal. 

As per reports, if the legal age of marriage got increased then there is a high chance of parental control and girls will continue to be pushed into early marriage due to poverty, customary practises, etc. And also confusion arises about the condition of women and girls married under 21 years of age. 

In India, Child marriage is not void, but having sex with her is illegal. As per law, the parties to the marriage need to approach the court to get their marriage nullified. This creates a lot of confusion. So, the only remedy to this issue is by making child marriage as void (Void ab initio).

Conclusion

Eighteen years of age is considered as the universal age of adulthood. A person acquires voting rights, becomes competent to make a contract, acquires the right to own a business, but when it comes to marriage, it lags. As stated above, the increase in legal marriage for girls has many advantages, and as the objective of this change has good impacts, the difference is a welcoming one. 


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