The government has taken steps to increase the legal age of marriage for girls in the country. In a cabinet meeting held on Wednesday, the Modi government approved a proposal to raise the legal age of marriage for women to 21 years. The legal age of marriage for men in the country is 21 years. PM Modi had hinted about this in his Independence Day address a year ago. Now, the government seems to be implementing it.
A year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the announcement during the Independence Day address, the Union Cabinet on Wednesday passed a resolution raising the legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years.
According to the sources, after the cabinet's approval, the government will introduce an amendment to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, and consequently bring amendments in personal laws such as the Special Marriage Act and the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
Sources say that after the cabinet’s approval, the government would amend personal laws like the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 and then the Special Marriage Act and the Hindu Marriage Act 1955.
The report quoted sources as saying that the Jaya Jaitly -led task force submitted its recommendations to the NITI Aayog in December 2020. Based on these recommendations, the cabinet has approved this proposal. This task force was set up to 'examine matters related to the age of motherhood, need to reduce maternal mortality rate, and improve nutrition’.
According to the reports, Jaitly said, 'I want to clarify that our reasoning behind the recommendation was never that of population control. Recent data released by the National Family Health Survey 5 (NFHS) has already indicated that the total fertility rate is declining and the population is under control. Behind all this is the idea of empowerment of women’.
In November last, the Union Health Ministry released the data for the second phase of the National Family Welfare Survey-5 (NHFS-5). The report recorded a decline in the fertility rate in the country. It has come down from 2.2 to two. India's TFR was 2.7 during the National Family Health Survey-3 in 2005-06, which came down to 2.2 in 2015-16. The fall in TFR indicates that population explosion is not going to happen in the country in the near future.
According to NFHS 5 data, India achieved a total fertility rate of 2.0 for the first time, which is below the replacement level of TFR at 2.1. This shows that population explosion is unlikely in the coming years. The data also shows that child marriage has come down marginally, in 2015-16, it was 27 percent and it came down to 23 percent in 2019-21.
Jaya Jaitly, a former Samata Party president, said the task force's recommendation came "after extensive consultation with experts and more importantly after discussions with young adults, especially young women as the decision directly affects them".
Jaitly said, “We have received responses from 16 universities and more than 15 NGOs have been roped in to reach out to the youth. Feedback was taken from rural and marginalized communities and from all religions and urban and rural areas alike. We got feedback from young adults that the age of marriage should be 22-23 years. There have been objections from some quarters, but we realized that they were instructed to do so by some groups”.
The task force constituted in June 2020 by the Ministry of Women and Child Development also included Dr. VK Paul of NITI Aayog and Secretaries of WCD, Health, and Education Ministries, and Legislative Department. It recommended that a massive public awareness campaign should be launched to encourage social acceptance of the decision. It has also sought access to schools and universities for girls, including transport in the case of educational institutions in remote areas.
The committee has further recommended that sex education should be formalized and included in the school curriculum. It has also been recommended to enhance the training, skill and vocational training, and livelihood of women in polytechnic institutions to ensure that the increase in marriageable age is implemented. The recommendation states that 'if a girl shows that she is financially independent, parents will think twice before asking them to marry’.