On Wednesday, the Union Cabinet cleared the proposal to increase the minimum marriageable age from 18 years to 21 years for women in India. The proposal is based on the recommendation by a task force of the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development—headed by Jaya Jaitly—which was constituted to examine 'matters pertaining to the age of motherhood, imperatives of lowering MMR (Maternal Mortality Rate), improvement of nutritional levels, and related issues.”
Now, the government will introduce an amendment to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, and consequently bring modifications to the Special Marriage Act and personal laws such as the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. This news comes a year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an announcement during his Independence Day address at the Red Fort. 'We have set up a committee to reconsider the minimum age for marriage of our daughters. We will take an appropriate decision after the committee submits its report,' he'd said.
At present, the minimum age for marriage in India is 21 years for men and 18 years for women. According to the task force that proposed the reconsideration of marriageable age for Indian women, a delay in marriage has a positive impact on the economic and social welfare and health of families, women, children and society, at large.
'I want to make clear that our reasoning behind the recommendation was never one of population control. Recent data released by NFHS 5 (National Family Health Survey) have already shown that the Total Fertility Rate is decreasing and the population is under control. The idea behind it (the recommendation) is the empowerment of women,' Jaya told The Indian Express.
The task force's recommendation came 'after extensive consultations with experts, and more importantly with young adults, especially young women as the decision affects them directly'. She added, 'We have had feedback from 16 universities and have engaged with over 15 NGOs to reach out to young people—particularly in rural and marginalised communities—such as in particular districts in Rajasthan where child marriage is quite prevalent. Feedback was taken across religions and from urban and rural areas, equally. Across the board, the feedback we received from young adults is that the age of marriage should be 22 to 23 years. There have been objections from certain quarters, but we felt it was more important to be guided by the target group.'
Apart from revising the minimum marriageable age for women, the committee recommended that sex education be formalised and introduced in the school curriculum. 'If girls can show that they are financially independent, parents will think twice before marrying them off early,' said a source.
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