Supported by the Child Marriage Restraint Act and the Special Marriage Act, 1954, and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, the proposal to increase the age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 has been tabled by the cabinet in India.
On the 74th anniversary of India’s independence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated that based on a suggestion from a committee made by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development, the government is considering increasing the minimum age of marriage for girls. The explanation can be explained as the evolution of the legal marriageable age for girls to ensure girls do not suffer from malnutrition/undernutrition and marry at a suitable age.
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Legal age of marriage in India
The legal age of marriage refers to when a person is legally entitled to marry, either at a legal age or as a minimum age subject to parental, religious, or other types of societal acceptance.
The age and other conditions for marriage vary by jurisdiction, although the age of majority gets used in the vast majority of cases. Most countries permit marriage at a younger age with parental or court approval, and some countries permit adolescent marriage if the women is pregnant.
In India, girls can legally marry at 18 years of age. However, there are exceptions to this rule. Although they may be the same in many locations, the age of marriage should not be confused with the age of majority or consent.
Government Proposal to Increase the Legal Age of Marriage in India
The Ministry of Women and Child Development established a Task Force in June 2020 to investigate the relationship between marriage age and motherhood, specifically maternal death rate and nutrition, to make legislative proposals by the end of July 2020. A suggestion was to increase the minimum age for girls to marry from 18 to 21 to delay the birth of their first child. As per the proposal, the bill was passed by the cabinet, and the legal age of marriage would be increased from 18 to 21 when it becomes a law.
The government proposed to raise the minimum legal age of marriage in India for young women from 18 to 21 to postpone motherhood, enhance nutritional levels among young moms, and lower maternal mortality rates. The government has sufficient evidence to make a solid argument for mitigating early marriage by extending the right to free and compulsory schooling until 18. It is essential to understand why raising the minimum marriage age in India is crucial.
Postponement of Motherhood
Postponement of motherhood or late motherhood refers to a woman becoming pregnant later in life. Increasing the legal age of marriage will undoubtedly postpone motherhood.
Postponing motherhood allows women to focus on their education, career advancement, and professional goals and increases their potential for higher earnings and provides numerous growth opportunities. Women get time to become financially independent and achieve stability. Women can help support their family and provide a secure environment for their children. Pursuing interests and passions can result in personal fulfilment, improve overall life satisfaction, and provide a strong foundation for nurturing and supporting children.
Increasing the marriage age is directly proportional to postponement of motherhood. Thus, women can mature emotionally and psychologically. They can prioritise their mental and physical health by adopting a healthy lifestyle and managing stress.
Delayed motherhood also enables women to create a strong bond with their partners by investing more time in the relationships. Such stable relationships provide for a harmonious family. Thus, being healthy and having a supportive relationship can positively impact their pregnancy and parenting experiences.
Enhance Nutritional Levels Among Young Mothers
Aside from a lack of purchasing capacity and limited food consumption, variables such as early marriage, conception at a young age of fewer than 20 years, women beginning pregnancy with poor nutrition, and a lack of self-care education play a role in maternal undernutrition. Marriage and conception before the age of 18 are vital contributors to undernutrition among women.
Lower Maternal Mortality Rates
Regardless of the duration and location of the pregnancy, maternal mortality refers to death from any difficulties during pregnancy and childbirth or within 42 days following termination of pregnancy, but not from unintentional or incidental causes. The number of deaths per 100,000 live births is known as the maternal mortality ratio (MMR). The proposed legislation can lower MMR.
Response of People and Civil Society Regarding Increase of Legal Age of Marriage
Marriage at a young age appears to be a reasonable alternative for parents, especially in Indian society, where child marriage still exists. There are few critics of this proposal based on cultural and traditional norms. Critics argue that young people may defy social values and engage in premarital sexual relationships, leading to unsafe abortions and crimes.
However, despite these opposing viewpoints, society’s response towards increasing the legal marriage age for women has largely been positive. Modern values and women’s autonomy have been given more weightage.
People are ready to welcome it as a crucial step towards individual rights, social progress, gender equality and women empowerment. Increasing the age of marriage is a progressive step that enables women to pursue their goals, career opportunities, and personal development before marriage.
Rules and regulations in the community typically specify the minimum legal age for marriage in India. The government has amended the legal minimum age for marriage. The formation of the task group provides an opportunity to define the action to eliminate early and forced marriages, which pose a severe threat to girls’ and women’s health and well-being. The action by the task force can provide opportunities for women to complete their education and become financially self-sufficient and allow them to pursue their aspirations and live a life of dignity and agency while still preserving their sexual and reproductive rights to choose the number, spacing, and timing of their children’s births.
FAQs on Legal Age of Marriage
Reasons for increasing the legal age of marriage in India?
Increasing the legal age in India can improve access to education, skills, healthcare, and jobs
What was the government proposal on increasing the age?
The government proposed to increase the age from 18 to 21 years.
What is the legal age of marriage for men and women in India?
The current legal age of marriage in India is 21 for men and 18 for women.
Why is the legal age of marriage proposed to be changed to 21?
The legal age of marriage is proposed to be changed to 21 to postpone motherhood and lower the maternal death rate.