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Rise of legal age of marriage for women – The need and implications

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State Executive Committee Member, State Media Panelist , State In-Charge for Policy & Research ,Mahila Morcha BJP Andhra Pradesh

 “Life ends before they have wings to fly” for considerable number of females

Globally women still do not have equal opportunities and representation in various fields. In India a lot of reforms were made for women. Still, there is discrimination and under representation of women in various fields.

The age of marriage

NFHS (National Family Health Survey) data revealed that incidence of child marriages has reduced steadily over decades. The child marriage rate was 47% in 1998, 44.5% in 2002, 27% in 2015-16 to 23% in 2019-20. 7% get married before 15 years with the incidence being more in rural areas at 27% compared to 14.7% in urban areas. 56% of women (61% in urban & 47% in rural) get married between 18- and 21-years. Majority of women in India married after 21. The mean age of marriage is 22.1 years in India and in most of states it is more than 21.

The Hindu Marriage Act -1955, The Special Marriage Act-1954 and The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act,2006 recommend minimum consent for marriage as 18 years for women and 21 years for men. The same applies to Christians under Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872 & Special Marriage Act. In Islam, marriage of a minor who attained puberty is considered valid.

Modifications of Age of marriage in India

1.Child Marriage Restraint Act or Sharada Act ,1929- Fixed 14 years for females & 18 for males

2.1949 act amendment – Fixed 15 for females & 18 for males

3.1978 act Amendment – Fixed 18 for females & 21 for males

4.Prohibition of Child Marriage Act was brought in 2006 with which

-Law was made applicable to all Indians except J&K

-Option of Voiding marriages

-Punishment up to 2 years.

Impact on females

Some issues which can be associated with age of marriage of females are as below

  • -The gap between representation of females and men widens as the level of education increases. The ratio of females to males is lesser in higher education, central institutes, professional courses, white collar jobs and higher positions.
  • -Higher fertility rates, low fertility control, poor fertility outcomes, early child births, rapid rebirths, still births and abortions were associated with early marriages.
  • -A very significant proportion of women have nutritional problems and health issues.More than half of reproductive age (15 to 49 years) women are anaemic.
  • -Average life expectancy of Indian women was higher by 2.7 years compared to males, but difference in Healthy Life expectancy was only 0.1 years. Worldwide average life expectancy was 5 years and Healthy Life Expectancy was 2.4 years higher for females compared to males.
  • -Attacks on women and domestic violence.
  • -Economic stability of women.

Modi government determined to reduce the child marriages significantly. Accordingly, committee was set up by Ministry of Women and Child Development to study about the age of marriage of women and prevalence of Infant Mortality Rate, Maternal Mortality Rate, Anaemia and Nutritional problems in children, Anaemia in women, Nutritional problems in women, Nutritional problems in children, Gynecological problems in women, health issues in women, women empowerment, education and social indices. The committee headed by Jaya Jaitley, Former Samatha Party President, included NITI Aayog member (Health) Dr. Paul ,secretaries of several ministries, doctors, educational experts, industrialists and women organizations. Committee did extensive research involving young adults and women across country with equal representation from all religions, urban and rural areas. 16 universities took feedback from young adults. Women and young adults in remote areas and marginalized communities were reached with the assistance of over 15 NGOs.

Recommendations of Committee

-Age of marriage to be increased to 21 years.

-A woman must be at least 21 years old at the time of first pregnancy.

-Providing better transport facilities in far-flung areas to improve access for young adults to schools and colleges.

-Training courses in skill development and entrepreneurship for women.

-Sex education in schools.

-Campaigns to increase social awareness about all the new measures.

-The delay in marriages will have positive financial, social and health implications on families, society and children.

Union Cabinet on December 15th decided to increase the legal age for women from 18 to 21 years on par with men.

Advantages of preventing early marriages

-Reduction of Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR – 145 mothers / 1 lakh children born) & Infant Mortality Rate (30/ 1000 children born die before one year).

-Girls below 20 years are twice likely to die during child birth than those aged between 21-24 years. Girls below 15 years are 5 times more likely to have MMR

-Infants born to mothers less than 19 are 60% more likely to die than infants born to mothers after 19.

-Domestic violence was more with early marriages. Mental maturity of females increases as age advances. Women after 21 can face challenges easily and are less susceptible for domestic violence.

-Will boost women work force participation levels from current 18%. Increasing women participation by just 10% will result in $770 billion increase in GDP and create millions of jobs. Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR) LFPR in India has been fallen from 30.28 % in 1990 to 18.6% in 2019, particularly more in rural areas. LFPR of India very low compared to global 47%.

-Increase in enrollment of females in higher education and professional courses.

-Women now hold 49% share in total enrollment in higher education in 2019, an increase by 18% from 31% in 2015. In National Institutes women enrollment is only 25%. In engineering and technology enrollment is as low as 29.2%. In fields of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) share of women is very low.

I measure the progress of a community with the degree of progress women have achieved” -Dr. B. R. Ambedkar

Article 15 of Indian constitution guarantees equality to all citizens irrespective of gender, religion, caste or place of origin. Rising Legal Age of Marriage to 21 on par with males is a major step towards equal treatment of males & females. This will ensure equal opportunities for women in fields of education, jobs and business. Women will have chance for representation in higher education and highly qualified jobs.This will definitely improve health status of women and children. This decision of Narendra Modi government is a welcome step for overall welfare & progress of women. The legislation is one of the strong measures to bring women on equal footing with men as guaranteed by constitution.

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State Executive Committee Member, State Media Panelist , State In-Charge for Policy & Research ,Mahila Morcha BJP Andhra Pradesh
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