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Minimum age of marriage for women

  • IASbaba
  • August 18, 2020
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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SOCIETY/ GOVERNANCE

Topic: General Studies 1,2:

  • Issues of women and Social Empowerment
  • Laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections 

Minimum age of marriage for women

Context: During the Independence Day Speech, PM announced that the central government has set up a committee to reconsider the minimum age of marriage for women

Do You Know?

  • Currently, the law prescribes that the minimum age of marriage for men as 21 years and 18 and for women as 18 years.
  • The minimum age of marriage is distinct from the age of majority which is gender-neutral. An individual attains the age of majority at 18 as per the Indian Majority Act, 1875

What is the committee that the Prime Minister mentioned in his speech?

  • On June 2, the Union Ministry for Women and Child Development set up a task force to examine matters pertaining to age of motherhood, lowering Maternal Mortality Ratio and the improvement of nutritional levels among women
  • The task force will examine the correlation of age of marriage & motherhood with health, medical well-being, nutritional status of the mother& child
  • Headed by former Samata Party president Jaya Jaitely, the committee includes Member Health at the NITI Aayog, Dr Vinod Paul, and several Secretaries to the Government of India.

Why is there a minimum age for marriage?

  • The law prescribes a minimum age of marriage to essentially outlaw child marriages and prevent the abuse of minors.
  • Personal laws of various religions that deal with marriage have their own standards, often reflecting custom
  • For Hindus, Section 5(iii) of The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, sets 18 years as the minimum age for the bride and 21 years as the minimum age for the groom. 
  • However, child marriages are not illegal — even though they can be declared void at the request of the minor in the marriage.
  • In Islam, the marriage of a minor who has attained puberty is considered valid.
  • The Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 also prescribe 18 and 21 years as the minimum age of consent for marriage for women and men respectively.
  • Additionally, sexual intercourse with a minor is rape, and the ‘consent’ of a minor is regarded as invalid since she is deemed incapable of giving consent at that age

How has the law evolved over years?

  • The Indian Penal Code enacted in 1860 criminalised sexual intercourse with a girl below the age of 10. 
  • A legal framework for the age of consent for marriage in India only began in the 1880s.
  • The provision of rape was amended in 1927 through The Age of Consent Bill, 1927, which declared that marriage with a girl under 12 would be invalid. 
  • In 1929, The Child Marriage Restraint Act set 16 and 18 years as the minimum age of marriage for girls and boys respectively. This law, 
  • It was eventually amended in 1978 to prescribe 18 and 21 years as the age of marriage for a woman and a man respectively.

How did freedom movement deal with these laws?

  • Conservative Stance: The laws faced opposition from conservative leaders of the Indian National Movement, who saw the British intervention as an attack on Hindu customs.
  • Progressive Stance: However, there were other who propounded for increasing the age of consent so that education is not neglected for the sake of marriage
    • The Age of Consent Bill, 1927 is popularly known as the Sarda Act after its sponsor Harbilas Sarda, a judge and a member of Arya Samaj

Why is the law being relooked at?

  • To reduce the risks of early pregnancy among women. Early pregnancy is associated with increased child mortality rates and affects the health of the mother.
  • To deter Child Marriages:Despite laws mandating minimum age and criminalising sexual intercourse with a minor, child marriages are very prevalent in the country (estimated at 4.1 million in 2017)
  • Gender-neutrality Laws: Making the age equal to that of men is in the spirit of right to equality.
  • Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitutionwhich guarantee the right to equality and the right to live with dignity, were violated by having different legal ages for men and women to marry.

Conclusion

The minimum age of marriage, especially for women, has been a contentious issue. It is high time that the laws dealing with same are changed in the spirit of Constitutional values.

Connecting the dots:

  • Wage Inequality between men and women
  • Glass Ceiling in Corporates and measures taken by government to break this.

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