The united nations adopted the Convention on consent to marriage, the minimum age for marriage which came into force in 1964. However before the UN adopted this convention, India had a law prescribing the minimum age of marriage known as the Sarda act 1929 and later renamed as Child marriage restraint act 1929. It was the first-ever law that was created to forbid child marriage in the whole of India except Jammu and Kashmir.
The legal marriage age for women was set as 14 years in 1929, but after it was defined in the child marriage restraint act. It changed to 18 years, same for men too, after independence the law was amended twice and for women’s marriage age in India from 15 then 18 and extended for men too as 21. According to the law, if a marriage had occurred between a boy aged between 18-21 years and a girl below the age of 18 years, it inferred imprisonment up to 15 days with a fine of one thousand rupees.
Better late than never
During this independence day speech, Prime Minister stated the proposal saying the government is constantly concerned about the health of daughters and sisters to save the daughters from malnutrition, it is necessary that they are married at the right age. Earlier this year, hundreds of girls from the northern state of Haryana which has one of the lowest gender ratios of females to males among Indian states had written to Modi urging him to raise the marriage age.
Snippets of these letters-
Sonam decided to write a letter to the prime minister urging him to increase the marriage age to 21 same as men so that we can complete our studies
Mubashira a teacher said I teach young girls and after a year of their college studies or so, they are married. Once married their studies are disrupted. However, finally, The union cabinet has now approved a major reform to extend women’s marriage in India from 18 to 21 [same as men]. The cabinet has cleared this move while the next step forward is amending the concern laws through parliament that are -the child marriage act of 2006, the special marriage act of 1954, and all the personal laws
Ranjana Kumari, director of new Delhi said she want a uniform marriage age for both genders to be the same, at the same time she stated the responsibility should be to change the mindsets, only amending laws won’t suffice. It needs to be ensured that they complete their education
Feminists and women rights activists slammed the move by saying it is a disaster for women, if they consider before 21 marriage as invalid because even now many girls are getting married even before 18, now after extending it would be a real disaster
Kavita Krishnan activist of the communist party of India also thinks this is a very wrong and problematic move, it is a move basically intended to control women’s autonomy even further, now only women’s right to marry has been attacked and now it will get legal sanction, she thinks if one is allowed to vote at the age of 18 as an adult one should be allowed to marry too and thinks even men’s marriage to be reduced to 18
Madhu Mehra thinks while there is a right to education act, 2009. Poor families don’t see any value in continuing education so they are married early, to refrain that this law is the best solution for early marriages
According to a national family health survey, out of all the women aged 20-24 one-fourth were married before the age of 18, that’s around 25 percent. Now the critics asked what difference do these 3 years make, if they were forced to pay a dowry, they were forced to pay after 3 years too…
Now here’s what we can say about that
Stop thinking from a man’s perspective or from families perspective, think from a women’s perspective for a change. In three years she can complete her education till then she would be awarded enough, she can get a job, be financially independent, know the real world in contrast to the hunky-dory situation she is used to..in three years she will probably reject men who ask for dowry. She would gain the confidence till that time to say no that is what the real progress looks like, that is why amending the laws is not sufficient, education and awareness should be ensured for women, we need to ensure they get the same meal as brothers, they get the same resources as men and there should be no social stigma about marrying late
Minimum age for marriage in other countries
Do you see a pattern here, two countries have low ages for marriage that are ultra-conservative ones and the modern ones and India lies somewhere in between
A Brighter future
Modern people consider, it is the women’s age to marry late, early, or stay single. However in actuality, women are denied that access, so raising the legal age for women is the only and best option, in fact, this could be a new template for governance in India, reforms that target women’s concerns for instance recently passed- triple talaq or the Ujala scheme
Women’s marriage age in India to be extended to 18 is a triumph for women’s empowerment. Women-centric reforms can bring holistic change, it’s a fact like India’s first prime minister says if you educate a man, you educate an individual…however if you educate a woman, you educate a family and this still holds true. The fact is when women take the lead, the reforms work out better, so raising legal marriage is definitely a good option, but we need more than that, more opportunities should be provided to women or forced marriages, we would just have delayed them…