India

Activists against raising age of marriage for women

A task force appointed by the Women and Child Development Ministry has been consulting civil society members on the issue of raising the marriage age women from 18 to 21. Picture for representational purpose.

A task force appointed by the Women and Child Development Ministry has been consulting civil society members on the issue of raising the marriage age women from 18 to 21. Picture for representational purpose.

Raising the age of marriage from 18 to 21 for women will lead to an increase in parental backlash against young adults who marry against the wishes of their parents or elope and will lead to criminalisation of sexual activity, say activists.

The criticism of the government proposal follows Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech on Independence Day , in which he said that a committee was deliberating over a change in marital age. A task force appointed by the Women and Child Development Ministry in June has been consulting civil society members.

Delhi-based NGO Partners for Law in Development undertook an analysis of cases reported under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA), 2006, to understand who used the law the most and to what end. The data analysed comprised 83 High Court and District Court judgments and orders between 2008 to 2017 and found that in 65% of the cases PCMA was used to punish elopement of two consenting older adolescents. In the remaining 35% of cases of child marriage, the PCMA was invoked in more than half of them to seek dissolution of marriages that didn’t work and not to punish the parents for breaking the law.

Also see: Data: Is India facing population explosion as the Prime Minister claimed?

Moreover, the law was used mostly by parents and relatives of the girl in 56 out of the 83 cases and only 14% of the cases were initiated by legal functionaries such as the Child Marriage Prohibition Office.

The study also found that when used to punish young consenting couples for marrying against the wishes of their parents, the PCMA was invoked along with penal provisions for kidnapping and rape under the Indian Penal Code as well as Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 — the minimum punishment under the latter for aggravated sexual assault is 20 years. However, marriages arranged by parents in violation of the law only see PCMA being applied, which provides for a maximum punishment of 2 years.

“This is a staggering and dangerous disparity. The law which was designed to protect young people has been set up in the Indian context to harm them. We don’t need honour crimes any more when you have a law lending itself to this kind of misuse,” Executive Director, Partners for Law in Development Madhu Mehra said at a virtual press conference on Monday.

“This is not a time to tinker with PCMA, but it is a time to look at POCSO and age of consent, which should be revised to 16 years from 18 years at least in cases of non-coercive and non-exploitative relations among peers,” added Ms Mehra.

Women’s rights experts also argue that child marriage has been on a decline, and therefore there is no rationale to raise the age of marriage.

Between National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 3 in 2005-2006 and NFHS-4, the proportion of women in the age group of 20-24 who were married at 15 years dropped from 25.4% to 6%. Mary E John, Director, Centre for Women’s Development Studies, cited similar data from NFHS-4 to state that a vast majority of women are married by the age of 21 and raising the age of marriage for women will lead to the criminalisation of these women and their families.

Data from National Family Health Survey, 2015-2016, shows 6% of women between 20-24 years were married at the age of 15, 26.8% by 18 and 48% by the age of 20.

Many experts tracking policy announcements also wonder whether the PM’s I-Day announcement is subterfuge for population control. In his I-Day speech in 2019 , the Prime Minister had expressed concern over “population explosion” and said decisions taken to keep family size small was a sign of patriotism.

“In 1978, when ages of marriage for boys was raised to 21 and for girls to 18, the reason cited was to curb population. This has been a long-standing agenda and has not gone away. The focus is on fertility but this has also been on the decrease, and is below replacement level for the country,” said Ms John, adding that the emphasis instead needs to be on schooling and access to job opportunities to delay the age of marriage and address poverty to prevent under-age marriage and fight malnutrition.


Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Aug 11, 2022 10:01:59 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/activists-against-raising-age-of-marriage-for-women/article32435181.ece