The All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), which works on issues of democracy, equality and women’s emancipation, and has an organisational presence in 23 states, has strongly disagreed with the recent Union Cabinet decision to raise the age of marriage to 21 from 18 years for girls. “This move, ostensibly for ‘women’s empowerment’, will be totally ineffective in a situation where the government has failed to meet even the most basic nutritional, educational and employment needs of the people,” stated AIDWA.
On Thursday, the Union Cabinet gave clearance to a proposal to raise the legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years, bringing the legal age of marriage at par for both women and men. A task force headed by Jaya Jaitly has submitted its recommendations to Niti Aayog. It had been set up to examine matters pertaining to the age of motherhood, lowering Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR), and related issues. According to news reports, the Government will next introduce an amendment to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, as well as amend the Special Marriage Act and personal laws such as the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, to reflect the new minimum age limit.
According to the activists this “move will in fact be counterproductive since raising the age of marriage for girls will result in further targeting of choice marriages.” They explain that it will also pave the “way to control the sexuality of a young girl, who already faces an uphill task to marry someone of her choice.” The statements elucidates that various “studies have shown and we know from our experience that criminalisation of consensual sexual activity between young persons has often led to charges of kidnapping, rape and other crimes including under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, leading to the breaking of these unions and incarceration of the young man involved.” Raising the age with this background will therefore result in “affecting the basic constitutional rights of women to privacy and autonomy” they stated.
They also call the argument that raising the age of marriage of women will bring about gender equality as “fallacious”. The AIDWA had previously demanded that the age of marriage of boys should in fact be reduced to 18 years. At 18 the age of majority, all Indians have the right to vote and have the capacity to enter into contracts. “The 18th Law Commission had also recommended that the age of marriage should be 18 for boys to bring about parity. This will also stop the boy from being subjected to various criminal penalties,” stated AIDWA.
According to the group of activists, this move to raise the marriageable age “is clearly a diversionary tactic from a government which refuses to allocate adequate resources towards nutritional programs like the ICDS, education and healthcare. If, as has been noted, the nutritional status of women remains low from birth onwards, getting married at 21 and having a child after that cannot improve the condition of maternal and child health or mortality.”
The AIDWA has demanded that the government scrap this move to raise the age of marriage of girls to 21.