India accounts for about a third of the global incidence of child marriage. The country is home to over 223 million child brides. The Union Cabinet has cleared a proposal to raise the legal age of marriage of women from the present 18 years to 21 years.
In India, one in four rural women are married before 18 years of age, shows NFHS5 data. Photo: Abhishek Verma/Gaon Connection
The Union Cabinet has cleared the proposal to raise the minimum age of marriage for Indian women from the present 18 years to 21 years. The clearance has come over a year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the plan on Independence Day last year.
As per The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the minimum age for marriage for women is 18 years and for men it is 21 years. The Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 also prescribe 18 years and 21 years as the minimum age of marriage for women and men, respectively. The Cabinet has now approved raising the age for women to 21 years too. This decision is based on the recommendations of a task force set up by the government.
Last year in June, the Ministry for Women and Child Development had set up a task force to examine matters related to age of marriage and motherhood, imperatives of lowering Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR), improvement of nutritional levels such as anaemia. Early marriages infringe on the rights and capabilities of adolescents, mostly young girls. Then, early pregnancies also result in poor maternal and child health.
Six months later, in December 2020, the task force submitted recommendations to NITI Aayog — an apex public policy think tank of the Indian government. The task force recommended increasing the legal age of marriage for women from 18 years to 21 years on the basis of feedback they received from young adults from 16 universities across the country.
Recently released National Family Health Survey-5 of the Union health ministry shows that the percentage of women who were married before 18 years of age has decreased from 27 per cent in 2015-16 to 23 per cent in 2019-21.
In India, one in four rural women are married before 18 years of age, shows NFHS5 data.
A 2021 study commissioned by the Population Foundation of India, titled Investing in Adolescent Development – A Case for India, pointed out that the girls who are married before 18 years of age are more likely to be those who are less educated, reside in rural areas, and live in poorer households. The NFHS-5 data also shows 27 per cent of rural women were married before they were 18 years in age.
Meanwhile, a 2019 report by United Nations Children’s Fund titled ‘Ending Child Marriage: A profile of child marriage in India’, pointed out that the country is home to over 223 million child brides. India also accounts for about a third of the global incidence of child marriage.
While the Union Cabinet has cleared the proposal to increase the legal age of marriage for women, the COVID19 pandemic seems to have worsened the predicament. A recent UNICEF study titled ‘COVID-19: A threat to progress against child marriage’ warned that 10 million additional child marriages might occur globally due to crisis emerged during the pandemic.