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Minimum marriage age limit : is it sufficient or should it be changed

August 16, 2021
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This article is written by Vivek Maurya from ICFAI Law University, Dehradun. In this article, the author has discussed the minimum marriage age limit and whether it is sufficient or should it be changed.

Introduction 

The minimum age of marriage, particularly for women, has been a hostile issue. The law has evolved in the face of much resistance from religious and social conservatives. Presently, the law recommends that the minimum age of marriage is 21 years and 18 years for men and women respectively, supported by the amend­ment of the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 out of 1978. The equivalent is suggested by the Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006.

On the 74th independence day of India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that the government will have to take into consideration the minimum age of marriage for girls, and on a proposal from a committee set up by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development. The explanation is linked to the development of the legal age of marriage for girls. As a result, the girls will no longer be a victim of malnutrition/undernutrition, and you’re going to get married at an appropriate age.

The current marriage age limit in India : law through ages 

The law endorses the minimum age for marriage, which prohibits the practice of child marriage, and it forestalls the ill-treatment of children. Personal laws of various religions that deal with marriage have their norms reflecting custom. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, set the time of marriage to 18 for women and 21 years for men. However, in Islam, the marriage is resolved when the women reach the age of puberty, for example, at the age of 15. The marriage of a minor who has reached the age of puberty, are considered to be major for marriage.

Quite apart from the laws, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 (PCMA), and the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, which define the current marriage age and the punishment for the crime.

The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955

The Act comprises the significant marriage law in India as it applies to most citizens who are Hindus. The Act sets out specific conditions for the solemnization of legitimate marriage among Hindus. Clause (iii) of Section 5 necessitates that the groom ought to have finished 21 years old and the bride, the age of 18 years at the time of marriage. At first, the ages endorsed for the bride and the groom were 15 years and 18 years respectively. Before 1978, marriage beneath the recommended ages could be solemnized with the assent of the guardians. With the Amendment Act, this provision became infructuous as the age for marriage was raised and guardianship wasn’t needed in the event of an individual, who has completed 18 years. Thus, the clause was erased by the Amendment Act. 

Except for a significant marriage that is celebrated in accordance with its obligations as provided in Section 5 of the HMA, the Act contemplates void marriage that is void ab initio and voidable marriage, which can be declared null and void at the occurrence of the bothered party. A marriage solemnized in contravention of Section 5, is either void or voidable

The law contemplates legal consequences if the child marriage is performed. The penalty can be up to a 2 year Strict Imprisonment (SI) or by a fine of up to Rs.1,00,000/- or a combination of both. 

The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929

In 1929, the Child Marriage Restraint Act, stated that the minimum age of marriage for men and women was 18 and 16 respectively. The law, known as the Sarda Act, after its sponsor Harbilas Sarda), a member of the jury and the members of the Arya Samaj, was finally renamed in 1978 in order to subscribe for the 18 and 21 years of age for marriage for men and women separately. The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, was established in the statute books as a high point at a constant pressure of social reform groups and law-abiding people, who fought against the harmful effects of child marriage. 

The Act punished a grown-up male for marrying a minor young lady. If the grown-up groom was more than 21 years of age, he was obligated to be punished with up to 3 months SI with fine and in case, he was between 18 – 21 years of age, punishment of a maximum of 15 days SI or a fine up to Rs.1,000/- or both can be imposed on him. No similar provision, however, existed for a female adult who married a minor boy, possibly because of such incidents being rare.

However, this act failed because of numerous reasons. These incorporated the wretched number of fruitful prosecution and cops requiring a warrant or a request from the officer to capture guilty parties. The offense was additionally seldom revealed since the actual Act restricted grievances after the principal year of marriage.

The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006

Amid the quiet disarrays of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, and the innocuous arrangements of The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, the Indian culture saw a developing interest for making the law on child marriage more successful with tough disciplines to annihilate or adequately forestall the abhorrent act of child marriage. 

The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 (PCMA, 2006) was advised on 10 January 2007 to beat the limitations of the previous enactments in successfully managing the issue of child marriage in India and to set up a complete component. It came into power on 1 November 2007. 

The salient feature of this legislation is as follows:

  1. The Act made the child marriage voidable at the option of the contracting party to the marriage, who was a child. However, since a girl is supposed to attain majority at the age of 18 years and a boy at 21 years, the woman can file a petition till she becomes 20 years of age.
  2. The Act likewise takes into consideration upkeep and home for the women till her remarriage from the male contracting party or his folks. 
  3. Every one of the disciplines thought about under the Act is very upgraded when contrasted with the 1929 Act. The punishment for a male adult marrying a girl child has been enhanced to 2 years Rigorous Imprisonment or with a fine of up to one lakh rupees or both.
  4. Comparative disciplines are recommended for any individual who performs, leads, coordinates, or abets any child marriage. A similar discipline is additionally recommended for any individual who gets the child marriage solemnized or advances the solemnization of such marriage or grants it to be solemnized or carelessly neglects to forestall such marriage and the guardians of such minor gathering to the marriage will also be held liable.
  5. However, no woman can be punished under the Act which may not be a welcome step under all circumstances.
  6. All offenses under the Act have been made cognizable and non-bailable.
  7. The Act further takes into consideration orders to preclude child marriage including ex-parte orders and makes any child marriage solemnized in contravention of the injunction order void. 
  8. Perhaps the most important change introduced by the Act is the provision that declares child marriage to be null and void under certain circumstances involving kidnapping, abduction, or trafficking of the minor.

Age and maturity 

The need for the change 

The girls shouldn’t be pushed into marriage, early marriage should not be made mandatory for them to gain economic and social status. There is a need for a change in the minimum age for marriage, as underage marriage leads to many problems in her life. These include the following: 

Education

Women have cultural strain to get married early and have children. Domestic duties take control of the lives of women, and they’re not looking for a degree at an advanced level, they are limited and they can not cope with their duties and schooling as in the case of pregnant women. 

Economic self-sufficiency

Early marriage denies them the right to education and to the profession, opportunities, and more along the lines of economic freedom. A lady needs to have monetary autonomy, which helps in making it possible for her to raise the height of the decisions about her life and her needs. With these advances, sexual orientation, and balance, and to ensure an equal partnership in all the circles of life. Restricting financial autonomy for women drives them into a pattern of poverty and limits educational opportunities for their children as well.

Health

Studies show that women who are married before 18 years of age are most likely to deal with an unwanted pregnancy and an increased risk of complications during pregnancy, such as preterm infants and long-term labor. They are also not protected against sexually transmitted diseases as they are not in a position to make safer sex. All this is because they lack proper education as they are married at a young age. This denies them legitimate medical care and antenatal consideration, which in fact is the reason for the higher mortality rate. 

Domestic violence

Getting married early builds the danger of abusive behavior at home. As stated by the International Council of Research on Women (ICRW), women who are less educated, married, between the ages of 15 and 19 years of age are required to have been subjected to physical abuse in the home, in contrast to the more well-educated women. One possible consequence of this could be the case that there is an anomaly between the pair, composed of young women and older men. 

Mental Health

Early marriages are to have a significant impact on the mental health of these women. They are likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. The institution of marriage, and the responsibilities can have an overwhelming impact on the mental health of an underage woman. 

Poverty

Girls from poor families are more likely to be married at a very young age. It is because her family can’t afford to buy their own expenses, such as education, training, and other resources, so they prefer to get her married to give them a better quality of life. There is a lack of financial self-sufficiency, and the expectations of profit will decrease significantly after the wedding. 

Change will initiate development of the society and its people

Increasing the legal age for the marriage of women has tremendous advantages on friendly and monetary fronts like bringing down Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) as well as the progress of nourishment levels, monetary front freedoms will likewise be opened up for ladies to seek higher education and professions and become financially empowered and numerous different advantages which include:

Socio-economic Fronts

Increasing the legal age for the marriage of women has enormous benefits on social and economic fronts including:

  1. Lowering the Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR).
  2. Improvement of nutrition levels.
  3. On the financial front, opportunities will be opened up for women to pursue higher education and careers and become financially empowered, thus resulting in a more egalitarian society.

More female labour force participation

Increasing the marriage age will push the mean marriage age higher and will prompt more females doing graduation and consequently improving the female workforce support proportion. The level of females doing graduation will increment by at any rate 5-7 rate focuses from the current degree of 9.8%.

The benefit for both 

Both men and women will gain economically and socially by marrying when they are more than the legal age, but added that the urge of the women is much higher as they always get a higher payoff by becoming financially empowered to make decisions.

Conclusion 

At present, there are many laws and regulations in place in the community, which define the minimum age for marriage but because of the weakness in implementation of the practice of child marriage, it is still prevalant in our community. The government has also been involved in the revision of the minimum age of marriage. 

The constitution of the task group is an opportunity to define the action to end early and forced marriages, which is a serious impediment to the health and well-being of girls and women. Allowing women to complete their education and give them the opportunity to become financially independent. This will make it possible for them to fulfill their dreams and live a life of dignity and agency, in order to maintain their sexual and reproductive rights of their selection in planning, number, and space the births of their children. 

It would be great to see the recommendations of the task force, which looks beyond the age of marriage and focuses on durable change, not by legislation alone but by bringing attitudinal changes to end the practice of early marriage.

References


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