The Union Cabinet has given its nod to raise the legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years, bringing it at par with that of men. While several people have called it a good decision, which will give girls a chance to study more and better job opportunities, activists are not all praises for the move.
Population Foundation of India executive director Poonam Muttreja, in an exclusive conversation with CNBC-TV18’s Ashmit Kumar on Thursday, said, increasing the marriage age
is a case of treating the symptom rather than the cause.
Muttreja pointed to a recent National Family Health Survey that shows a fourth of the population of girls in India are married before 18 years
“I am not supporting early marriage, I am supporting late marriage
but that does not happen with legal enactment, it happens when you ensure that girls are educated, they are empowered, they have opportunities to enter the workforce etc.” she said.
“What we see as a problem, the society at large sees as a solution. They see it as a solution because they feel insecure for their daughters given the sexual abuse in our society, given the fact that it is not safe for girls to go to school, discrimination, inequality, it is those issues that we have to deal with. So we have to ensure that we make life safer for girls, we have to ensure that the laws that have been made in India for women are implemented,” she explained.
Sending girls to faraway schools is often seen as a liability among several sections of society, Muttreja added and called for the nation to create opportunities for girls to stay in school and invest in their skill-building.
The decision to raise the age bar came a year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the government was deliberating on what should be the minimum age for the marriage of women.
"This government is constantly concerned about the health obef daughters and sisters. To save the daughters from malnutrition, it is necessary that they're married at the right age," Modi had said during his Independence Day speech last year.
Former Samata Party chief Jaya Jaitly, who led the four-member task force that recommended changing the age, said there were two main reasons that were focussed on.
"If we talk about gender equity and gender empowerment in every field, we cannot leave marriage
out because this is a very odd message that a girl can be fit to be married at 18 that cuts away her opportunity to go to college, and the man has the opportunity to prepare himself for life and earning up to 21 years. But these days when girls are capable of doing so much and the main reason why they are married off is that they are not an income-earning member of the family, but why do we allow them that feeling?" she told PTI.
According to sources cited by news agency PTI, the government is likely to bring a bill in the ongoing Winter Session of Parliament to amend the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. The proposed bill may also seek to make consequential changes to various personal laws relating to the marriage of different communities to ensure a uniform marriage age, they said.