Hundreds of girl citizens have written an open letter to parliamentarians urging them to vote against the government’s proposal to raise the age of marriage for women to 21 and have demanded that their agency to take decisions about their lives is not taken away. They also want the elected representatives to pursue policies that ensure gender equality.
“It is of course true that many girls among us and our sisters from across the country desire to get married at the age of 21 years or even after that. There are also sisters who desire to get married around 18 years; it is informed by their lived realities and contexts. What is critical for all of us is the right to take this decision ourselves. We believe that girls have complete freedom to choose if, when, who and how to marry,” according to the open letter drafted by 2,500 people who are part of the Young Voices National Movement.
Last year, representatives of this campaign also appeared before the task force headed by ex-Samata Party Chief Jaya Jaitly and submitted a detailed report opposing raising the age of marriage. It is based on this task force’s recommendations that the Cabinet last week approved a proposal to raise the legal age of marriage for women to 21 and the government is expected to introduce a Bill on the issue during the ongoing session of Parliament.
Educating MPs on common reasons for child marriages, the girls say marriages don’t force them to drop out but it is the other way around — problems in accessing education force them to drop out and get married. The girls therefore want MPs to focus on the root causes instead of bringing a blanket ban.
“It is true that social norms and practices, poverty, economic pressures, unreasonable expenses, lack of suitable opportunities for education or training for girls, the continued spate of violence against women and girls, the pressures of increasing living costs and migration for poor families residing in rural and urban centres are some of the core driving factors why many girls are being pushed into marriage while very young,” they write.
They want parliamentarians to enable policies that ensure work, equal wages and safe workplaces as well as comprehensive measures to arrest violence against women which is one of the biggest roadblocks in accessing education and jobs.
The group also conducted a Twitter storm on Monday and demanded that the proposed Bill be sent to a parliamentary committee.