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21 years to be minimum legal age of marriage in India for women too?

A task force, chaired by veteran politician and activist Jaya Jaitly, has begun deliberations. Will submit report by July 31.

Karuna John 29 Jun 2020

Legal AgeImage Courtesy:indiatvnews.com

In another month, a high powered task force set up by the Parliament, will submit its report on whether the minimum legal age for marriage for women in India needs to be changed from the current 18 years. The Union Ministry of Women and Child Development had notified the committee chaired by veteran politician and activist Jaya Jaitly. The committee has been formed under the Women Welfare Division, of the ministry and was notified in the Gazette on June 4.

The taskforce is mandated to study the implications of the age of marriage of girls, age of childbirth on the health and mortality rates of both infants and mothers, in India. It is expected to submit its findings by July 31. The meetings have begun, and inputs on various elements have been sought from subject experts from across the country. 

Chairperson Jaya Jaitly, told SabrangIndia that the broad issues that are being examined include legislative measures, the various existing laws and how they intertwine, perhaps even contradict each other. “We will study the social inputs, as well as the laws and status on  health and education. For example the impact on education of girls, of Swacch Bharat, the mid day meal schemes,” she said. The committee has already held two meetings, and in its future meetings will also study the international precedents on what the ideal age of marriage is in various countries. “We need to look at best practices,” says Jaitly, “we can’t just give a wishlist and idealism.” She says the task force will study the following broad elements, “We need to look at health,  law, primary education, secondary education etc.” The proposal, once accepted, may be discussed in Parliament, and eventually become law. 

According to sources, the task force’s recommendations may pave the way for the amendments of  key laws including Protection of Children from Sexual Offences; Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, and the Indian Penal Code (IPC).  

The issue was highlighted by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her Budget speech this year. She is quoted in the Gazette saying, “Women’s age of marriage was increased from fifteen years to eighteen years in 1978, by amending erstwhile Sharda Act of 1929. As India progresses further, opportunities open up for women to pursue higher education and careers. There are imperatives of lowering MMR as well as improvement of nutrition levels. Entire issue about the age of a girl entering motherhood needs to be seen in this light. I propose to appoint a task force that will present its recommendations in six months’ time..” 

The taskforce members include: Dr. Vinod Paul, Member (Health), Niti Aayog, Dr  Najma Akhtar (VC Jamia),  Vasudha Kamath (VC, SNDT Univ, Maharashtra), Dr  Dipti Shah (leading gynaecologist, Gujarat) as well as secretaries from the ministries of Health and Family Welfare, Women & Child Development, Higher Education, School Education & Literacy, and Legislative Department. 

The task force will also invite experts from other fields, especially those working on child rights’ issues, to consult with them in future meetings. The meetings remain virtual under the Covid-19 conditions, and the task force has been provided secretarial assistance by the NITI Aayog. 

The official terms of reference for  the task force are:

Examine the correlation of age of marriage and motherhood with (a) health, medical well-being and nutritional status of mother and (b) neonate/infant/child, during pregnancy, birth and thereafter

Suggest measures for promoting higher education among women

Suggest suitable legislative instruments and/or amendments in existing laws to support its recommendations

Work out a detailed roll-out plan with timelines to implement its recommendations 

The reason health is foremost on the list is the expert opinion that motherhood at a younger age increases infant and maternal mortality. Some others argue that an older woman has lesser reproductive years ahead of her. 

According to a report in the Economic Times, Indian government’s move to revise the legal age of marriage for women, may have been triggered by a 2017 Supreme Court ruling on marital rape “exemption”. The ET reffers to the said judgment "which held that child marriages should be rendered void-ab-initio (invalid from the outset) to shield women from marital rape, had set the ball rolling for the Centre to amend the existing law to declare child marriages invalid." 

The Hindu then had also reported that, “Exception clause to the heinous offence of rape allows a man to have sex with his wife who is not aged below 15.”  According to a PTI report carried by The Indian Express, “The apex court, however, sought to know as to whether Parliament debated the aspect of protecting married girls, between the age group of 15-18 years, from the forced sexual acts by their spouses. It also asked whether the court could intervene to protect the rights of such married girls who may be sexually exploited by their spouses. The apex court also said that marriage of a girl, who is below the age of 15 years, was 'illegal'”.

“Yes, many contradictions already exist,” said the veteran leader, "the minimum age of marriage was raised from 16 to 18." She added the task force still needs to study again the marriage age, in relation to the changes in education and health, beyond what the law on age is. There may also be a discussion on the parity between genders and the legal marriageable ages for each. At the moment young men who are 21, and young women who are 18 years of age can marry under the law. According to sources, the recommendations are likely to propose that the minimum age of marriage for women in India be raised 21, at par with the men. 

Though Jaitly herself has said that the task force’s discussions are in an early stage yet, and many factors, laws, precedences are yet to be examined. She says, the “best practises” need to be drawn from.

The focus should now be on “incentives rather than punishments,” said Jaitly when asked about the flouting of the existent anti child-marriage law, among some socio-ethnic groups in the country. The committee will also closely look at the various clauses in Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006. It may also consider if it is better to have the same age of marriage for both genders and what that age should be. “After all, the voting age is the same, but I look at my grandson who is almost 18 years old, and I can’t imagine him thinking about marriage. Teenagers have many other worries...” said Jaitly, on a lighter note.

In the early inputs, the figures on the application of various government welfare schemes aimed at the girl child, especially her education, have been submitted and are being studied. More reports, especially on health are expected to be submitted to the task force soon. According to sources, it has also been suggested that the members of the task force perhaps invite the major stakeholders: the young women and men who will be directly impacted, to offer their opinions. In the current situation, this may be done over video conferencing, or a virtual town hall. Though this too is just an idea that one of the task force members have voiced and needs to be discussed further. 

“Yes, a member suggested we reach out to the stakeholders, (perhaps via) the youth, and sports ministry. We need to (hear from) young voices,” confirmed Jaitly.

The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 has a number of punishments, such as:

Solemnising a child marriage—Whoever performs, conducts, directs or abets any child marriage shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment which may extend to two years and shall be liable to fine which may extend to one lakh rupees.

Promoting,  permitting, attending, participating in the solemnisation of child marriages shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment which may extend to two years and shall also be liable to fine which may extend up to one lakh rupees.

The marriage of a minor child is declared to be void if the child is:

Taken or enticed out of the keeping of the lawful guardian; or by force compelled, or by any deceitful means induced to go from any place.

Is sold for the purpose of marriage; and made to go through a form of marriage or if the minor is married after which the minor is sold or trafficked or used for immoral purposes. 

According to UNICEF, India has the highest absolute number of child brides in the world. The situation is explained in detail by Girls Not Brides, a global partnership of non government organisations that work to end child marriage. Their studies elucidate that child marriage in India is driven by gender inequality, level of education, and poverty. Points that Jatly also said will be examined. 

Girls Not Brides, also adds other social factors that lead to marriage of young girls such as ‘to preserve the purity’, or ensuring that there is no ‘risk’ of pre marital sex, or worse, sexual assault. However, the partnership adds that “child brides in India are at greater risk of sexual and physical violence within their marital home.” According to the website India has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. 

21 years to be minimum legal age of marriage in India for women too?

A task force, chaired by veteran politician and activist Jaya Jaitly, has begun deliberations. Will submit report by July 31.

Legal AgeImage Courtesy:indiatvnews.com

In another month, a high powered task force set up by the Parliament, will submit its report on whether the minimum legal age for marriage for women in India needs to be changed from the current 18 years. The Union Ministry of Women and Child Development had notified the committee chaired by veteran politician and activist Jaya Jaitly. The committee has been formed under the Women Welfare Division, of the ministry and was notified in the Gazette on June 4.

The taskforce is mandated to study the implications of the age of marriage of girls, age of childbirth on the health and mortality rates of both infants and mothers, in India. It is expected to submit its findings by July 31. The meetings have begun, and inputs on various elements have been sought from subject experts from across the country. 

Chairperson Jaya Jaitly, told SabrangIndia that the broad issues that are being examined include legislative measures, the various existing laws and how they intertwine, perhaps even contradict each other. “We will study the social inputs, as well as the laws and status on  health and education. For example the impact on education of girls, of Swacch Bharat, the mid day meal schemes,” she said. The committee has already held two meetings, and in its future meetings will also study the international precedents on what the ideal age of marriage is in various countries. “We need to look at best practices,” says Jaitly, “we can’t just give a wishlist and idealism.” She says the task force will study the following broad elements, “We need to look at health,  law, primary education, secondary education etc.” The proposal, once accepted, may be discussed in Parliament, and eventually become law. 

According to sources, the task force’s recommendations may pave the way for the amendments of  key laws including Protection of Children from Sexual Offences; Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, and the Indian Penal Code (IPC).  

The issue was highlighted by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her Budget speech this year. She is quoted in the Gazette saying, “Women’s age of marriage was increased from fifteen years to eighteen years in 1978, by amending erstwhile Sharda Act of 1929. As India progresses further, opportunities open up for women to pursue higher education and careers. There are imperatives of lowering MMR as well as improvement of nutrition levels. Entire issue about the age of a girl entering motherhood needs to be seen in this light. I propose to appoint a task force that will present its recommendations in six months’ time..” 

The taskforce members include: Dr. Vinod Paul, Member (Health), Niti Aayog, Dr  Najma Akhtar (VC Jamia),  Vasudha Kamath (VC, SNDT Univ, Maharashtra), Dr  Dipti Shah (leading gynaecologist, Gujarat) as well as secretaries from the ministries of Health and Family Welfare, Women & Child Development, Higher Education, School Education & Literacy, and Legislative Department. 

The task force will also invite experts from other fields, especially those working on child rights’ issues, to consult with them in future meetings. The meetings remain virtual under the Covid-19 conditions, and the task force has been provided secretarial assistance by the NITI Aayog. 

The official terms of reference for  the task force are:

Examine the correlation of age of marriage and motherhood with (a) health, medical well-being and nutritional status of mother and (b) neonate/infant/child, during pregnancy, birth and thereafter

Suggest measures for promoting higher education among women

Suggest suitable legislative instruments and/or amendments in existing laws to support its recommendations

Work out a detailed roll-out plan with timelines to implement its recommendations 

The reason health is foremost on the list is the expert opinion that motherhood at a younger age increases infant and maternal mortality. Some others argue that an older woman has lesser reproductive years ahead of her. 

According to a report in the Economic Times, Indian government’s move to revise the legal age of marriage for women, may have been triggered by a 2017 Supreme Court ruling on marital rape “exemption”. The ET reffers to the said judgment "which held that child marriages should be rendered void-ab-initio (invalid from the outset) to shield women from marital rape, had set the ball rolling for the Centre to amend the existing law to declare child marriages invalid." 

The Hindu then had also reported that, “Exception clause to the heinous offence of rape allows a man to have sex with his wife who is not aged below 15.”  According to a PTI report carried by The Indian Express, “The apex court, however, sought to know as to whether Parliament debated the aspect of protecting married girls, between the age group of 15-18 years, from the forced sexual acts by their spouses. It also asked whether the court could intervene to protect the rights of such married girls who may be sexually exploited by their spouses. The apex court also said that marriage of a girl, who is below the age of 15 years, was 'illegal'”.

“Yes, many contradictions already exist,” said the veteran leader, "the minimum age of marriage was raised from 16 to 18." She added the task force still needs to study again the marriage age, in relation to the changes in education and health, beyond what the law on age is. There may also be a discussion on the parity between genders and the legal marriageable ages for each. At the moment young men who are 21, and young women who are 18 years of age can marry under the law. According to sources, the recommendations are likely to propose that the minimum age of marriage for women in India be raised 21, at par with the men. 

Though Jaitly herself has said that the task force’s discussions are in an early stage yet, and many factors, laws, precedences are yet to be examined. She says, the “best practises” need to be drawn from.

The focus should now be on “incentives rather than punishments,” said Jaitly when asked about the flouting of the existent anti child-marriage law, among some socio-ethnic groups in the country. The committee will also closely look at the various clauses in Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006. It may also consider if it is better to have the same age of marriage for both genders and what that age should be. “After all, the voting age is the same, but I look at my grandson who is almost 18 years old, and I can’t imagine him thinking about marriage. Teenagers have many other worries...” said Jaitly, on a lighter note.

In the early inputs, the figures on the application of various government welfare schemes aimed at the girl child, especially her education, have been submitted and are being studied. More reports, especially on health are expected to be submitted to the task force soon. According to sources, it has also been suggested that the members of the task force perhaps invite the major stakeholders: the young women and men who will be directly impacted, to offer their opinions. In the current situation, this may be done over video conferencing, or a virtual town hall. Though this too is just an idea that one of the task force members have voiced and needs to be discussed further. 

“Yes, a member suggested we reach out to the stakeholders, (perhaps via) the youth, and sports ministry. We need to (hear from) young voices,” confirmed Jaitly.

The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 has a number of punishments, such as:

Solemnising a child marriage—Whoever performs, conducts, directs or abets any child marriage shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment which may extend to two years and shall be liable to fine which may extend to one lakh rupees.

Promoting,  permitting, attending, participating in the solemnisation of child marriages shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment which may extend to two years and shall also be liable to fine which may extend up to one lakh rupees.

The marriage of a minor child is declared to be void if the child is:

Taken or enticed out of the keeping of the lawful guardian; or by force compelled, or by any deceitful means induced to go from any place.

Is sold for the purpose of marriage; and made to go through a form of marriage or if the minor is married after which the minor is sold or trafficked or used for immoral purposes. 

According to UNICEF, India has the highest absolute number of child brides in the world. The situation is explained in detail by Girls Not Brides, a global partnership of non government organisations that work to end child marriage. Their studies elucidate that child marriage in India is driven by gender inequality, level of education, and poverty. Points that Jatly also said will be examined. 

Girls Not Brides, also adds other social factors that lead to marriage of young girls such as ‘to preserve the purity’, or ensuring that there is no ‘risk’ of pre marital sex, or worse, sexual assault. However, the partnership adds that “child brides in India are at greater risk of sexual and physical violence within their marital home.” According to the website India has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. 

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