Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured the girls of the country that the government will decide the right age for marriage as soon as a concerned committee gives its report. In June this year, the Centre had formed a 10-member task force under Jaya Jaitley, to recommend whether the legal age of marriage for women could be changed from 18 years. The proposal to raise the legal age for marriage of women carries “enormous” economic and social gains for India, according to a State Bank of India report. The report titled, “Increasing the legal age of women’s marriage: A dominant strategy for societal good, financially empowering women,” counts benefits such as lowering maternal deaths and improving nutrition levels in the near term to putting more girls in college and enabling women to achieve greater financial independence in the long-term.
Need for relooking to raise marriageable age:
- In past, girls were married at age of 11, 13 and 15 years and due to this girls were not able to take decisions for themselves, no proper education and career and had health implications.
- There are many arguments in favour of increasing the minimum age of marriage of women.
- For country’s economic growth there are 2 things that is Labour and Capital.
- For 5 trillion economy target, we need to use every bit of labour in our economy and women are part of it.
- Women Labour force participation is only 25% in India whereas the global average is 60%, to become world power, we cannot afford women to be out of service.
- There is a need to bring in gender-neutrality.
- Because entry and leave from schools are at the same age for both boys and girls.
- There is a need to reduce the risks of early pregnancy among women.
- Early pregnancy is associated with increased child mortality rates and affects the health of the mother.
- It will make them self financial and give her a lot of power in domestic sphere as well.
- Despite laws mandating minimum age and criminalising sexual intercourse with minor, child marriages are very prevalent in India.
Link Between Age of Marriage and Nutrition:
- A study conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), which was published in 2019, showed that children born to adolescent mothers (10-19 years) were 5 percentage points more likely to be stunted (shorter for their age) than those born to young adults (20-24 years).
- They were 11 percentage points more stunted than children born to adult mothers (25 years or older).
- Children born to adolescent mothers also had 10 percentage points higher prevalence of low weight as adult mothers.
- It also highlighted other factors, such as lower education among teenage mothers and their poor economic status, which had the strongest links with a child’s height and weight measurements.
- It recommended that increasing age at first marriage, age at first birth, and girl’s education are a promising approach to improve maternal and child nutrition.
Why the practice of early marriage still exists in India?
- Social groups follow traditions from previous eras without questioning contemporary relevance. Early marriage allows parents to waiver ‘responsibility’ of settling their children.
- Economically weak and large families encourage the practice as it helps send-off girl children early, while marriage of a boy brings an additional hand to assist in household and economic activities.
- Members of communities practicing child marriage tend to have little to no formal education. Belief in religious scriptures and the idea that these contain prescription for early marriage drive families to fulfill this “obligation.”
- Early marriage ensures full “utilization” of fertility and childbearing capacity.
- Strong caste ties limit the availability of suitable marital partners. As soon as parents identify a match, they make haste in conducting the marriage.
- Limited education opportunities, low quality of education, inadequate infrastructure, lack of transport and therefore concerns about girls’ safety while travelling to school significantly contribute to keeping girls out of school and therefore tend to favour child marriage.
- Girls are often seen as a liability with limited economic role. Women’s work is confined to the household and is not valued. In addition, there is the problem of dowry. Despite the fact that dowry has been prohibited for five decades (Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961), it is still common for parents of girls in India to give gifts to the groom and /or his family either in cash or kind. The dowry amount increases with the age and the education level of the girl . Hence, the “incentive” of the system of dowry perpetuates child marriage.
- The families and girls who might benefit from social protection programmes are not always aware of them and these schemes are often limited to providing cash transfers without the accompanying messages to address the multi-dimensional nature of child marriage.
Consequences of early marriage:
- The harmful consequences of child marriage are segregation from family and friends, limiting the child’s interactions with the community and peers, lack of opportunities for education.
- Early maternal and infant deaths
- Adolescent mothers give birth prematurely or to low weight babies. The health of the child and mother are at risk and often they do not survive.
- Infant mortality rates are higher than the national average in the states where child marriage is highly prevalent.
- Because of lack of protection child brides are often exposed to serious health risks, early pregnancy, and various STDs especially HIV/AIDS.
- Girl children often face situations of bonded labour, enslavement, commercial sexual exploitation and violence as a result of child marriage.
- She is forced to take up roles that she isn’t mentally prepared for. It eventually leads to isolation and depre
Need for uniformity:
- The different legal standards for the age of men and women to marry has been a subject of debate.
- In a consultation paper of reform in family law in 2018, the Law Commission argued that having different legal standards “contributes to the stereotype that wives must be younger than their husbands”.
- Women’s rights activists too have argued that the law perpetuates the stereotype that women are more mature than men of the same age and therefore can be allowed to marry sooner.
- The Law Commission paper recommended that the minimum age of marriage for both genders be set at 18. For the difference in age for husband and wife has no basis in law as spouses entering into a marriage are by all means equals and their partnership must also be of that between equals.
- Two Supreme Court rulings could be significant to the context of this argument:
- In 2014, in National Legal Services Authority of India v Union of India, the Supreme Court while recognising transgenders as the third gender said that justice is delivered with the “assumption that humans have equal value and should, therefore, be treated as equal, as well as by equal laws.”
- In 2019, in Joseph Shine v Union of India, the Supreme Court decriminalised adultery and said that “a law that treats women differently based on gender stereotypes is an affront to women’s dignity.”
- For any society to make sustainable progress it is necessary to empower women and for that two most important weapons are quality of education and skills and for this they should not be under any pressure to get married early.
- Early pregnancy is associated with increased child mortality rates and affects the health of the mother. Thus, there is a need to focus on a mother’s health and readiness to carry a child.
- Government needs to emphasize upon economic and social empowerment of women and girls, as well as targeted social and behaviour change communication (SBCC) campaigns. Increasing the minimum age of marriage of women will also lead to gender-neutrality.
- Extending the scope of the Right to Education for girls up to vocational studies.