As the Lok Sabha on Tuesday sent the proposed law raising the age of marriage for women to 21 to a Standing Committee, Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani said it would ensure uniformity across all religions and communities.
“The age of marriage should be uniformly applicable to all religions, caste, creed, over-riding any custom or law that seeks to discriminate against women,” Ms. Irani said while introducing the Prohibition of Child Marriage Amendment Bill, 2021, in Lok Sabha.
“We are in our democracy 75 years late in providing equal rights to men and women to enter into matrimony. In 19th century, the age of marriage of girls was 10 years. In 1940, this was raised from 12 to 14. In 1978, girls could be married at the age of 15 years. Today, for the first time both men and women on the basis of equality can take a decision to get married at the age of 21. From 2015 until 2020 we have stopped 20 lakh child marriages, according to research. The NFHS-5 data tells us that nearly 7% girls between 15 years to 18 years have been found pregnant and 23% girls under 18 years were married though the law doesn't permit it,” the Minister said.
She said the Bill will also amend the Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1972, Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936, Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937, Special Marriage Act, 1954, Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, and Foreign Marriage Act, 1956.
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Several MPs from the Congress, Trinamool Congress (TMC), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) demanded greater scrutiny and urged that the Bill be sent to the Standing Committee.
The IUML’s E.T. Mohammed Bashir urged that the Bill be withdrawn as “it was unwanted, unconstitutional and in violation of Article 25 of the Constitution. This Bill will have far-reaching consequences in the country. It is an attack on personal laws and the fundamental rights in the country.”
Asaduddin Owaisi of the AIMIM said the Bill was retrogressive and questioned why the age of marriage for girls was being raised to 21 when “18-year-olds can choose a PM, be in a live-in [relationship] and have a sexual relationship under POCSO”. He also sought to draw the attention of the House to the poor employment rates of women in the country and said that the female labour force participation (FLPR) rate in India was lower than Somalia.
The Minister introduced the Bill amidst protests by Opposition MPs in the well of the House demanding the sacking of Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Mishra ‘Teni’ for the Lakhimpur Kheri killing.