Raise marriage age of women from 18 to 21 – UPSC GS1

  • The Union Cabinet has passed a proposal to raise the legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years, the same as men.
  • The government has taken this decision based on the recommendations of the Committee headed by Jaya Jaitly.
What is the minimum age of marriage currently?
  • For Hindus, Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 sets 18 years as the minimum age for the bride and 21 years as the minimum age for the groom. 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.
For the new age of marriage to be implemented, these laws are expected to be amended.
What are the recommendations given by the Jaya Jaitly committee?
The committee has recommended the age of marriage for women be increased to 21 years for reasons such as:
  • Gender Neutrality: Increasing the age of marriage for women will bring the age of marriage for both men and women at par.
  • Impact on Health: Early marriage and consequent early pregnancies have impacts on the nutritional levels of mothers and their children, and their overall health and mental wellbeing, impact on Infant Mortality Rate and Maternal Mortality Rate.
  • Impact on Education: Early marriage cuts off women from access to education and livelihood.
  • NFHS Data: National Family Health Survey (NFHS) has revealed that child marriage has come down marginally from 27% in 2015-16 to 23% in 2019-20 in the country. But the government has been pushing to bring this down further.
What are the other recommendations given by the Jaya Jaitly committee?
  • Increase access to schools and colleges for girls, including their transportation to these institutes from far-flung areas.
  • Skill and business training for women.
  • Undertake Awareness campaigns on a massive scale to ensure social acceptance of increasing the age of marriage.
What are the arguments against the raising of marriage?
Increasing the age of marriage for women would result in
  • Pushing a large portion of the population into illegal marriages.
  • Law would end up being coercive.
  • Negatively impact marginalized communities such as the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes, making them law-breakers.
  • The decrease in child marriages has not been because of the existing law but because of an increase in girls’ education and employment opportunities.
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