In 2021, the Indian government made an effort to raise the legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years. The primary purposes behind this move were women’s empowerment to decrease maternal and infant mortality rate. This article will take a neutral dig at this amendment in the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (2006).
India is one of those countries where the number of child brides is high, and pandemics contributed to it more. In 1978, the minimum age of marriage for women was raised to 18 and men to 21. The reason behind this difference in the minimum marriage age of men and women was based on societal customs and beliefs. Later, efforts to bring equality in the age of marriage started to be made. The recent move towards bringing women’s minimum age for marriage at par with men’s has roots in breaking the societal gender disparity. Even if there is an increasing awareness regarding gender equality, still there is a long way to go. In most places, women are still criticized for giving birth to a girl child or child killed in a womb or after birth only. It’s necessary to find the root of the problem to create a solution. Reasons behind child marriage are poverty, the prevalence of the dowry system, insecurity, etc. Women are often considered the property of another family as they are married off to another family and raise children as an heir of that family. So they are often considered a burden on the family financially. Their education is often taken as granted. Due to poverty and insecurity, they were married off at an early age. In modern times, awareness about girls’ education has increased, and many higher education opportunities have been made open for women. They are taking care of their parents at par with men. Hence, strengthening this women’s empowerment, decreasing maternal and infant mortality rates, to decrease the rate of child marriage are the reasons behind the amendment in the act. This amendment might also help in population control. But as every coin has two sides, there are few hurdles to making it successfully effective on the basis of ground realities.
The decision to increase the marriage age to 21 is more from an urban perspective. At the minimum age of 18, no clear punishment is prescribed for violating the age limit. Even if there was a law, many child marriages weren’t recorded in the official government record. The rural perspective in taking this decision seems to be neglected. There are few schools in the village, and those are also till 5th or 10th standard. In agrarian societies like India, people want girls to settle down. The safety and security of girls are considered by rural people and people in slum areas. In India, age 18 is declared an adult legally. Hence, giving women the legal right to marry their person of choice at the age of 21 is unfair too. The move can also affect the health of women due to a decrease in reproductive span, leading to not enough gap between two children.
In conclusion, even if there are good consequences of the recent move, there are hurdles too which we might face during execution. Hence, it’s necessary to change the mindset of society first. Government must create higher education facilities for women in rural India. It’s necessary to act effectively on the existing policies. Gradually, the prohibition of child marriage will be achieved.