SHOULD INDIA REVISE THE AGE OF MARRIAGE?
Shrena Suhane & Yash Jain, III year of B.B.A.,LL.B. from New Law College, BVDU, Pune
This article deals with the issue of the age of marriage and the reasons why society conducts early marriage of the girl child. Early marriage leads to many problems in her life physically and mentally for which she is not completely prepared. Many girls across the country face these problems and are impotent to share with anyone as they know society will not support them and rather they have to adjust with society. The period of marriage could be made uniform by making use of Article 14 and 44 of the constitution which talks about the Right to Equality and Uniform Civil Code.
KEYWORDS: Age, marriage, girl, liability, society
The age of matrimony in India is decided by the Parliament and according to them the minimum age limit is 21 for boys and 18 for girls. Since 1978 after the coming of the Sarda Act, the lawful age of marriage came to be 18 and 21 for girls and boys[i]. Under Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, Special Marriage Act, 1954 and Prohibition Of Child Marriage Act, 2006 has prescribed the age bar across the country and if the marriage is done underage prescribed by anyone of the parties, then it is the option of the party whether to continue that marriage or not. Though there is an exception to these cases is of Muslim law, when a 16-year-old girl got married with a 24-year-old, following all rules and regulations under Muslim Law then SC allowed the marriage to be conducted[ii].
At present India has the topmost number of child brides in the world. There are various reasons for the increase in child brides which is prevalent in our country. India is a country where several religions are practised and people live to the expectations of the society. Our society is a way more narrow-minded as society isn't ready to change with the new trends and traditions. Many Indian families still treat girls as a liability and get her married as soon as she attains the age of 18 years. The life of the girl changes when she gets married and starts living with her in-laws. The age where she should explore the opportunities, set her goals, learn new things in her life and become independent instead she gets pushed into doing the household work, living up to the expectations and bearing the child for her family[iii].
The other reason could be said is poverty as there are poor families who think that more people in the family means more earning members. Those families with the girl child think that a girl in the family means burden due to the factors like dowry and education of a girl. The family wants the girl to get married either just after 18 years of age or before 18 in some cases as well. These families think that poverty is already a liability and the birth of a girl child increases their liability. If we go back 10-15 years back, there were many cases for prenatal sex discernment to know the foetus of the baby and if it is a girl, there are chances of the demise of the child before ever been born. To stop this practice, the Government introduced many programs related to increasing the number of births of the girl child and the education of the girl and also made the prenatal sex discernment illegal for which a law was introduced by the government known as PCPNDT Act, 1994 which came into effect from 1st January 1996[iv].
18 is the age where a girl is not strong enough to handle all the things in her life. Till 18 she stays with her family and completes her schooling and as soon as she completes her education she is asked or maybe coerced to get married irrespective of the fact the girl is ready or not. Sometimes she is not bold enough to handle the pressure from in-laws side or incapable of managing her own life also, satisfying and fulfilling the desires of her in-laws and husband. When the girl is below 21, she fails to realise the ill-treatment done on her by her family and if she understands then also she has fear of taking a stand against her family because there are very rare chances that her family members assist her.
There are chances of bearing a child after the marriage. The birth of the child is due to the pressure of the family members and the husband. They force the girl to bear them a boy child and if the girl child is born, then the parents and husband get mad at the girl as they only want a boy child as they think the boy will carry their name forward. The stability in the married couple is very less in the earlier times as the girl has just crossed the age of 18 and the boy is nearly 5 years elder to her so it is difficult to match the compatibility and bring the firmness in the life. As the boy is the only earning person in the family and the girl is left to just do the household work, take care of the family members and bear a child as there are very rare chances that the family of the boy allows the girl to study further in her life.
As the time has changed, the policies introduced by the government for the safety of the women and the campaign has made the youth aware that it is very important to become stable in life, independent and then think of getting married. Now the boy also wants to get settled first, make a good bank balance and desires his partner to be educated and career-oriented before they marry. With time people's mentality has changed and is becoming more advanced as per the change in society. Everything has some or other loopholes, in the same way, there is a huge percentage of people who think the girl should get married as she attains 18 years of age. To remove this disparity the government must take some or the other step which will result in inconsistency in the life of a girl where she could achieve her utmost goals, get equal opportunities as compared to boys and turn out to be an important asset for the economy.
The child marriages in our country have reduced over the period. But they have not been completely shut down. There are child marriages in any or other parts of the country. These marriages are held, so that the dowry to be given by the family of the girls is low then the dowry to be given after she attains the age of majority. There are times, when these marriages are held for the trafficking of the girls of a nation, and they can be forced in the prostitution or transported to any other country for their body and money could be made out of that. The pandemic of Covid- 19 has led the people to marry their daughters even before the age of 16 as the lower-income level people are unable to provide food to their families, some try to get them married earlier so that they may get proper food to eat and water to drink after their marriages. The people think that the girls will be happy after the marriages, but there are chances of adverse reactions as sometimes they are ill-treated and can be by anyone either by family related to household work or my husband for forcing sex or can be said as marital rape on the girl[v].
The changes to be made for the age limit of getting married for both the boy and the girl should be made uniform. The age limit should be made 21 for both boy and girl as they will have chances to advance their careers and become independent in their lives. As far as the religions are considered in our country the age limit they follow presently is 18 for girls and 21 for boys but in some cases, there are chances of minors also getting married like the 16-year-old girl case in which she got married to a 24-year-old man following all the procedures. If the Uniform Civil Code which is Article 44 of the Constitution applies all over India like Goa, then the age limit is to be set by the government and the marriages would be considered same for all. Then there is Article 14 of the constitution which deals with the Fundamental Right “Right to Equality” which provides that everyone should be treated equally and brings all the people under equal protection of the law which cannot be denied by the state. Therefore, everyone should be treated equally irrespective of gender and if the government revises the minimum age limit, then everyone has to follow it. If the changes are made through amendment they could become a part of the law and the law remains the same for everyone [vi].
From this article, we can see the women have to face many problems in her life after attaining the age of puberty. The poor families seek to get the girl married as soon as possible as they think that she is a liability to the family. Our country is becoming modern and advanced but the thinking of the society is still the same as it was a couple of decades back. There have been schemes launched by the government for the upliftment of the girl child like by providing less cost on the education and incentives on their birth. India is one of the developing nations, for the country to get developed from time to time the government has started providing equal opportunity to both the boy and the girl in every field so that there are no biases based on gender. Therefore the government should revise the age of the girl and keep the age of both boy and girl uniform.