The Government recently set up a task force decide whether they should increase the marriageable age for women. Currently, the legal marriageable age for women in India is 18 years. However, for men, the minimum legal age is significantly higher- 21 years old. Why does this difference exist? We explain the current law, and the implications of raising the marriageable age for women.

The current law on the minimum legal marriageable age

The current laws prescribe the legal age for marriage as 18 years for women and 21 years for men. Previously, the marriageable age was 16 years for women and 18 years for men (under the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929). This law was reformed in 1978 to increase the age to what it is today.

Why does the government want to increase the marriageable age for women?

On 4th June 2020, the government set up a task force that will decide whether to increase the minimum age for women from 18 to 21 years. Let us see why the government is pushing for this change.

  • Better health for women: One of the major causes of death among young girls between 15 to 19 is complications arising from pregnancy. Many women who get married early, bear children early. They do not have access to healthcare, safe child delivery and child health care services. On increasing the age for marriage, the average age of motherhood will also increase- reducing the risks of maternal and infant deaths.

  • Preventing child marriage: According to data published by UNICEF, 27% of girls in India are still married before their 18th birthday. Revising the age from 18 to 21 will help to prevent early marriage to a certain extent, and allow for better implementations and enforcement of the law.

  • Better education and career opportunities for women: The increase in age will give women more years to pursue their education and kick-off their careers. It will in turn help women to gain financial strength and independence.

  • Gender equality: Currently, women can be married off three years earlier than men. This leads to many women getting pushed into marriage at an early age, without finding equal opportunities to study or work. Whereas, men can wait till they are 21 years old. The changed law will help bring about equality in a way.

Will raising the minimum age for marriage to be beneficial to women?

We believe that increasing the legal marriageable age of women to 21 years, will undoubtedly be extremely beneficial for women.

The present difference in the legal age is rooted in patriarchy. It is fuelled by the outdated stereotype that women mature faster and are more emotionally capable at the same age, and hence should be able to marry sooner. It also promotes the orthodox notion that wives must be younger than their husbands.

The risks of death during childbirth, and health problems due to early motherhood, will also be removed by this reform. When the marriageable age is made higher, it will no longer be possible to get young girls married off as soon as they turn 18. As a result, more women will have a real shot to access higher education and develop careers. Their education and careers will make them more financially secure, independent and informed, balancing the power disparities that plague many early marriages.

Creating parity will be a progressive step in the right direction for promoting gender equity in our society. Raising the marriageable age for women to 21 years will signify a shift from patriarchal values and promote gender equality and gender justice in society- making it a safer, healthier and better place for women.

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