The Union Cabinet has passed the bill aimed at raising the legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 making it equal to that of men.
As the government has got a nod from the Cabinet, the next step will be to introduce an amendment in the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. Consequently, it will introduce amendments in the Special Marriage Act and other personal laws such as Hindu Marriage Act.
The proposal is based on the recommendation given to Niti Aayog by the Task Force headed by Jaya Jaitly. The task force was constituted to examine matters pertaining to the age of motherhood, imperatives of lowering MMR (Maternal Mortality Rate), improvement of nutritional levels and related issues.
“I want to make clear that our reasoning behind the recommendation was never one of population control. Recent data released by NFHS 5 (National Family Health Survey) have already shown that the Total Fertility Rate is decreasing and the population is under control. The idea behind it (the recommendation) is the empowerment of women,” said Jaitly.
Former Samata Party president Jaya Jaitly also said that the task force has proposed these recommendations after extensive consultations with experts, and more importantly with young adults, especially young women as the decision affects them directly.
She added, “We have had feedback from 16 universities and engaged over 15 NGOs to reach out to young people, particularly in rural and marginalised communities, such as in particular districts in Rajasthan where child marriage is quite prevalent. Feedback was taken across religions, and from urban and rural areas, equally.”
“Across the board, the feedback we received from young adults is that the age of marriage should be 22-23 years. There have been objections from certain quarters, but we felt it was more important to be guided by the target group,” she said.
On Independence Day 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the government’s plan to reconsider and determine the right age of marriage for women.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development set up the Task Force in June 2020. The task force also included Dr V K Paul of Niti Aayog and Secretaries of the WCD, Health and Education ministries and of the Legislative Department.
The task force recommended launching a comprehensive awareness campaign in order to increase the acceptance of decision among the public. It also recommended to formalise sex education and include it in the school curriculum.
“If girls can show they are financially independent, parents will think twice before marrying them off early,” said sources.
As per Section 5(iii) of the Hindu Marriage Act, the legal age of marriage for women is 18 and 21 for men. Under the Special Marriage Act and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, the minimum legal age of marriage is 18 and 21 for women and men respectively.