In a notable effort towards women empowerment, the Union Cabinet Wednesday passed a proposal to raise the legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years, the same as men.
Following the Cabinet’s approval, the Government will introduce a revision to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, and accordingly bring modifications to the Special Marriage Act and personal laws such as the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
This clearance comes over a year after the plan was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his Independence Day address in 2020. The proposal was suggested by a task force set by the government to evaluate women-related issues concerning the age of motherhood, essentiality of decreasing MMR (Maternal Mortality Rate), improvement of nutritional levels, among others.
The task force run under Jaya Jaitly, made the proposals after comprehensive talks with experts, young adults, especially young women as the decision affects them directly.
According to Jaitly, the move was intended to empower women and not control the population. She spoke of the data disclosed by the National Family Health Survey that showed the Total Fertility Rate is decreasing and the population is under control.
The task force, set up in June 2020 by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, headed by Jaya Jaitly, included Secretaries of the WCD ministry, Health and Education ministries, and of the Legislative Department along with paediatrician Dr VK Paul of Niti Aayog.
The task force has advised the government to plan out a detailed public awareness campaign directed at promoting social acknowledgement of the decision and also aimed at girls’ access to schools and universities, including conveyance in case they are in far-flung locations. Significantly, the committee also advised that sex education be standardized and enlisted in the school curriculum.
Besides this, training of women in polytechnic institutes, skills and business training, and livelihood enhancement have also been proposed to ascertain that a rise in the legal age of marriage can be enforced.
As per Section 5(iii) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the minimum legal age for the bride is 18 years and the groom is 21 years. The Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 also specify the minimum age of authorization for marriage for women and men, 18 and 21 years respectively.