Should legal marriage age of women be raised from 18 to 21?

Prime Minister Modi, during his Independence Day speech last year made a mention of the proposal. Based on the recommendation submitted to Niti Ayog in December 2020 by the Centre’s task force, headed by Jaya Jaitly, which was constituted to examine “matters pertaining to age of motherhood, imperatives of lowering maternal mortality rate, improvement of nutritional levels and related issues”.

The disparity is easily visible in Section 5(iii) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 which set 18 years as the minimum age for the bride and 21 for the groom. In Islam, the marriage of minor who has attained puberty is considered valid. Statistics of girl’s marriage in India shows that 35% of female in India are married before the age of 21.Early marriage often leads to early pregnancy with massive health consequences such as complications, mental health problems etc. At 18, a girl has little understanding of the world with no degree. The situation is even grave in far flung or backward regions of India where parents thinks a daughter as a mouth to feed and marrying off acts as an elimination.

India’s first PM Jawaharlal Nehru said “If you educate a man, you educate a man. However if you educate a woman, you educate a family”. The proposal is a victory for women empowerment. Increase in marriageable age ensures higher education, skills enhancement, equal opportunities for self employment, self-dependency, healthcare etc. In the words of P. Chidambaram “The year 2022 should be used for massive educational campaign on benefits of marrying only after a boy or girl attained the age of 21 years”. The reform should not end here but it should further outreach an awareness.

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