The government has decided to raise the legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years, bringing it at par with that of men. The Union Cabinet on Wednesday cleared a proposal to bring in uniformity in the marriageable age of men and women, sources said on Thursday.
The government is likely to bring a bill in the ongoing Winter Session of Parliament to amend the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, they said. The proposed bill may also seek to make consequential changes to various personal laws relating to marriage of various communities to ensure a uniform marriage age, the sources said. As of now, the legal age of women to get married is 18 while that for men it is 21 years.
The decision came a year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the government was deliberating on what should be the minimum age for marriage of women. The decision is based on the recommendation of a four-member task force led by former Samata Party chief Jaya Jaitly.
Speaking about the recommendation, Jaitly said there were two main reasons that were focused on. “If we talk about gender equity and gender empowerment in every field, then we can’t leave marriage out because this is a very odd message that a girl can be fit to be married at 18 that cuts away her opportunity to go to college and the man has the opportunity to prepare himself for life and earning up to 21. But these days when girls are capable of doing so much and the main reason why they are married off is because they are not an income earning member of the family but why do we allow them that feeling,” she said.
“We should give them an opportunity to earn and be equal to a man and she can’t become equal at 18 when man has 21 years to do that. Secondly, we took opinions from lots of people, but the main people who were most attentive were stakeholders themselves. We conducted assessment calls with young people—universities, colleges and in rural areas where they are still at school or getting out of school and the unanimous opinion of stakeholders was the marriageable age to be 22 or 23. Across all religions everyone had the same opinion which was a very heartening thing,” she said.
Jaitly said the task force submitted its recommendations to the PMO, Women and Child Development Ministry and NITI Aayog last December. The other members in the panel include Dr V.K. Paul, member (health) Niti Aayog, secretaries of higher education, school education, health, women and child development, legislative department apart from academicians Najma Akhtar, Vasudha Kamat and Dipti Shah.