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Muskaan Singh, III year, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun,

The 74th Independence Day gave a ray of hope when our Hon’ble Prime Minister of India announced that the Central government is reconsidering the minimum age of marriage for women in India. Since 1978 the minimum age of marriage for women in India is 18 years, just a girl attains adulthood she is married. But is this right? Well, Mr. Narendra Modi the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, while giving his Independence Day speech on 15th August 2020, stated that the Central government has created a committee to look into reconsidering the minimum age of marriage of the women in India[1]. This is a huge step and will ensure the females in our country are not pushed into getting married as soon as they are 18 and are not ready for marriage or the following motherhood.

Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman, our Finance Minister, first took up this sensitive yet under-looked topic in a Budget Session in February 2020 and stated that this topic will be touched again in six months. According to research by UNICEF, 27% of girls in India are married before their 18th birthday[2]. But with a progressive mindset and the determination to bring about a change, we hope these figures will change. Following the announcement, the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development set up a committee to look into the matters, which are related to this topic. Age of motherhood, maternal mortality ratio, nutrition levels, heath aid facilities etc. were looked into to declare the final opinion by the committee. The committee will have to look into deep-rooted issues such as the correlation of marriage with early motherhood, the nutritional levels of mother and neonate, infant and mother during pregnancy.

Why is there a minimum age of marriage? Child marriage in India was an auspicious and a ceremony cherished by all until in 1929 a law passed banning the practice. Well, according to report 7% of Indian girls are still married before the age of 15. When the girls are supposed to study and make a career for themselves they are pushed into household chores and eventually early motherhood. India being a secular country has different religions following their laws. In Hindus according to the Hindu Marriage Act[3] the minimum age of marriage for girls is 18 years, whereas in Islam the marriage of a minor who has attained puberty is considered as a valid marriage.

There are no strict reasons as to why females in India have to be 18 whereas males have to be 21 to get married. But the Law Commission consultation paper submitted that this distinction has been made keeping in mind the stereotype that wives have to be younger than their husband[4]. Other Women’s rights activists debate that women are more mature than men at an early age and thus the minimum age for marriage of women in India is set to be 18 years.

This minimum age for marriage, which is set to be 18 years, needs to be removed. Why should the females be bound to marriage at an early age whereas the men are bound at a later age? There are many contentions in favour of increasing the minimum age of women from 18 to 21 years starting from an early pregnancy where the female’s bodies are not ready for pregnancy but are still carrying the baby resulting in increased child mortality rates in India. 18 years is a fairly young age for girls to be exposed to marriage. And these issues not only pose threat to child marriage but also an Economic issue[5].

The laws where the minimum age of marriage for women being 18 years challenges Article 14 and Article 21 of the Indian Constitution[6]. Article 14 of the Indian Constitution guarantees its citizens the right to equality, whereas Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees the right to live with dignity. Aren’t these articles applicable to the daughters of the country who are married when they are supposed to educate themselves?

It is high time that India should not think about the MMR (maternal mortality rate). It is really interesting to know that the Sustainable development Goal 3of Good Health For All has targets for reducing the maternal mortality rate in India to less than 70 women per 1,00,000 live births. It is claimed by academicians that maternal mortality rate and early marriages have direct relations. Early marriages and increased levels of deficiencies amongst girls and women such as anaemia are directly proportional to each other[7]. MMR in India is linked to gender equality and the lack of education of women and the low levels of education and access to family planning or even affordable healthcare facilities.

The government of India should now look at a farsighted approach and raise awareness amongst the youth in India regarding their rights and freedoms. The government at the same time should revisit their laws and look into what can be done to reduce the age because when the whole world is moving forward why should we sit back? When do the people claim they have the “progressive mindsets'' then why marry your daughters as soon as they turn 18 years? The government should understand that our daughters are our pride and we are proud to have daughters and are not behind the ideas to send them away as soon as a parent can. Along with changing the minimum age, the government should also start with plans and action strategies to educate rural India and the deep corners of India as to how to prevent maternal mortality rate and how to maintain the nutritional levels of pregnant females.

Once the government changes the minimum age of marriage of females in India to 21 years, the women in India will now have a career and will complete their education. As they have completed their education they will be independent and will not have to be dependent on their husband for every chore. This will reduce the levels of domestic violence in India and will also help decrease the maternal mortality ratios in India and the females will now be educated on when to have a child and how to take care of themselves and their family. As it is rightly said to educate a woman & you educate a family’. There will be adequate information as to how and when to plan a family and how to take care of it. Also with increasing the minimum age of marriage to 21 the government will fulfil the golden dream of gender-neutral laws in India. Thus, the government should reel back and reconsider the minimum age of marriage for females in India.

[1]Moushumi Das Gupta, Modi says govt reviewing marriage age for women, promises equal job opportunities for them, The Print (Aug. 15, 2020, 12:44PM) https://theprint.in/india/governance/modi-says-govt-reviewing-marriage-age-for-women-promises-equal-job-opportunities-for-them/482300/

[2]Ending Child Marriage, A profile of progress in India, UNICEF, https://www.unicef.org/india/media/1176/file/Ending-Child-Marriage.pdf

[3]Section 5(iii) of The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955

[4]PTI, Let 18 years be recognised as legal age for marriage for men too: Law panel, The Economic Times (Aug. 31,2020 06:54PM) https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/let-18-years-be-recognised-as-legal-age-for-marriage-for-men-too-law-panel/articleshow/65625902.cms?from=mdr

[5]Jagriti Chandra, Should the age of marriage for women be raised to 21?, The Hindu (Sept. 4, 2020 11:12PM) https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/should-the-age-of-marriage-for-women-be-raised-to-21/article32517084.ece

[6]The Indian Constitution, 1950

[7]Devina Buckshee, Should India Raise the Age of Marriage For Women? Experts Divided, The Quint (Aug. 19, 2020 02:59PM) https://www.thequint.com/neon/gender/marriage-age-for-women-modi-government