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SANSAD TV: BILLS: AN INSIGHT- PROHIBITION OF CHILD MARRIAGE (AMENDMENT) BILL, 2021

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Introduction:

Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021 The seeks to increase the minimum age of marriage of females to 21 years from the current 18 years.

Context

  • According to the National Family Health Survey 2019-21 (NFHS-5), 23% of women between the age of 20 and 24 were married before 18 years of age.
  • This figure has reduced significantly over the years from 47% in NFHS-3 (2005-06) to 27% in NFHS-4 (2015-16), and to 23% in the latest survey.
  • In India, the practice of child marriage was first legally prohibited in 1929 through the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929.
  • As per the 1929 Act, marriage of girls below the age of 14 years and boys below the age of 18 years was prohibited.  This Act was amended in 1978 to increase the minimum age to 18 years for females, and 21 years for men.
  • The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 replaced the 1929 Act, with the same minimum age limits.  The Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021 seeks to increase the minimum age of marriage for females to 21 years.  The Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth, and Sports on December 21, 2021.
  • In June 2020, the central government set up a task force (Chairperson: Ms Jaya Jaitly) to examine the correlation of age of marriage and motherhood with: (i) health, medical well-being, and nutritional status of mother and child, during pregnancy, birth and thereafter, (ii) key parameters such as Infant Mortality Rate (IMR), Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR), Total Fertility Rate (TFR), Sex Ratio at Birth (SRB), Child Sex Ratio (CSR), and (iii) any other relevant points pertaining to health and nutrition in this context.
  • The Task Force was also required to suggest measures for promoting higher education among women.  According to news reports, the Committee submitted its report in December 2020, where the suggestion to increase the age of marriage for females to 21 was made.

 Key Features 

  • Increasing the age of marriage for females:  The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 provides that the minimum age of marriage is 21 years in case of males, and 18 years in case of females.  The Bill increases the minimum age for females to 21 years.  It also specifies that the provisions of the Act shall override any other law, custom, usage or practice.
  • Time period for filing petition to annul child marriage: Under the 2006 Act, a person who is married before the minimum specified age may apply to annul the marriage.  The petition must be filed within two years of attaining majority (i.e., 20 years of age).  The Bill increases this to five years (i.e., 23 years).

Key Issues and Analysis

  • The minimum age of marriage at 21 years is higher than the minimum age of majority (18 years).  The Supreme Court has ruled that marriage between adults is a fundamental right.   The question is whether prohibiting marriage for persons between 18 and 21 years is a reasonable restriction on their right to marry.
  • About a quarter of 20-24 year old women are married before the age of 18 years, despite that being the minimum age of marriage since 1978.  The limited success of the current law raises the question whether an increase in minimum age would have any significant impact on reducing the incidence of child marriage