The Government Is Considering Moving Up The Legal Marriageable Age For Girls In India To 21. But Only For Motherhood, Not So She’s Emotionally More Mature
Currently, in India, the legal age for marriage eligibility for women and men is 18 and 21 respectively. But this hasn’t always been the case. In 1860, sexual intercourse with a girl younger under the age of 10 got criminalised. It might shock you now but back then, people had to be told by law to not have sex with children. Oh wait, not much has changed. In 1927, the Age of Consent Bill rescinded the consent obtained from a girl younger than 12 years of age, which seem to have also vexed some of the national leaders back then including Bal Gangadhar Tilak who claimed it to be a way of British attacking our culture. Thankfully, pedophilia was criminalised but a 13-year-old girl is still a child.
Then came the Child Marriage Restraint Act (1929) that announced the legal age for marriage for girls was 16 and 18 for boys. It was eventually amended in 1979 and the ages haven’t been changed to date. Except now, our government is looking to revise the legal age to be reviewed by a committee that will submit recommendations by the end of July.
The task force along with our government’s policy think tank, Niti Aayog is supposed to view this on the “correlation of age of marriage and motherhood with implications on the health of mothers and infants, impact of the age of marriage on infant mortality rate, maternal mortality rate, total fertility rate, sex ratio at birth and child sex ratio,” as reported by Tribune India. It is also aiming to promote education and opportunities for women in India.
— United Nations in India (@UNinIndia) October 9, 2014
Different aspects of the debate are presenting an argument through the same purview – motherhood. But considering India is a country that has marriage and reproduction as the main purview of this age change, it comes tainted with sexism and gender inequality. If that’s not true, then why do we have a disparity in the legal age of marriage for men and women?
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was quoted by Tribune India, “Women’s age of marriage was increased from 15 years 18 eighteen years in 1978 by amending erstwhile Sharda Act of 1929. As India progresses further, opportunities open up for women to pursue higher education and careers. There are imperatives of lowering MMR as well as improvement of nutrition levels. Entire issue about the age of a girl entering motherhood needs to be seen in this light. I propose to appoint a task force that will present its recommendations in six months’ time.”
27% girls in India are married off before 18! Government set to revise women’s legal age for marriage – this move could help in curbing early enforced marriage and early pregnancies, leading to a boost in #WomensHealth @thetribunechdhttps://t.co/uIDSujAPnq
— C3 India (@c3_india) June 8, 2020
The current ages exhibit the way our society encumbers women with all the responsibility of being the mature and wise one. But more importantly, the woman’s age conversation is still stuck entirely around motherhood, accounting in no way for her emotional and mental bandwidth to deal with the trials and tribulations of marriage. In a consultation paper of reform in family law in 2018, the Law Commission wrote, “The difference in age for husband and wife has no basis in law as spouses entering into a marriage are by all means equals and their partnership must also be of that between equals.”
The age disparity also shows that a woman doesn’t have to be a provider. A man, on the other hand, has to graduate and get a job or have some stability. Why can’t the legal age for both men and women be 18? It was reported that the Modi government is considering that last year but we haven’t heard anything change yet.
What really sucks though is that in India, women are simply seen as reproduction machines and this task force is confusing me honestly. I don’t see any reason to revise the legal marriage age for women, especially if they are doing it solely on the basis of our reproductive abilities.
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Apparently, it can be moved to 21 – I don’t know whether that is good, bad, or of any effect so far, considering child marriages occur anyway. So maybe what would actually be more useful is focusing on abolishing child and forced marriages, which India aims to do by 2030. In 2016, statistics revealed that there were 12 million children who were married and under the age of 10. Amongst them, 65% were girls. Clearly, things won’t change on a social level simply by setting a different legal age. And maybe this should be of more importance than trying to add more sexism to the already pungent curry by reducing us to baby-making machines and marriage is simply a certificate to do that.