Legal Age Of Marriage for Women Raised To 21 years

Story Highlights
  • The minimum legal age for women increased to 18 to 21 years.
  • Increasing the minimum legal age would offer an opportunity to pursue higher education.
  • Opponents of the change argue that child marriages are rife in India.

New Delhi: The government of India has proposed raising the minimum legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years. Currently, the minimum legal age for women to marry is 18 years; for men, the corresponding age is 21 years. A bill to formalize such a legal change was presented in the Lok Sabha on December 21st. However, after resistance from the opposition parties, it was sent to a parliamentary panel for further evaluation. As per the bill, the new minimum marital age for women shall prevail over all the personal laws; therefore, the legal age of marriage will be raised for all females regardless of their religion.

Proponents of increasing the marital age for women argue that currently, several girls are forced to drop their studies for marriage, and increasing the minimum legal age required to marry to 21 would give them time to pursue their studies and offer an opportunity to pursue higher education. Another contention is that pregnancies in teenage girls heighten the possibility of high blood pressure, anaemia and many other health issues in the mother, and can also lead to severe pregnancy complications that can cause the death of the mother.

On the other hand, opponents of the change argue that child marriages are rife in India at present in spite of the same being barred by law. As per the National Family Health Survey (2019-2021), one-fourth of the women aged between 20-24 years were married before turning 18 years old. After the COVID-19 outbreak, the incidence of child marriages has increased across the world. Therefore, the problem lies in the implementation of the existing laws. It is therefore argued that instead of legally increasing the minimum marital age, the root cause of child marriage should be addressed in order to bring about a value change in society.

Another argument against the proposal is that some girls from especially conservative, regressive and patriarchal families escape their families’ clutches by choosing to marry a person of their choice after turning 18 years old. As a result of the proposed legal amendment, such girls would have to wait for three more years; this period could be misused by families and the wider community to threaten and control such girls. In 2018, the Law Commission of India had suggested decreasing the minimum legal age of men from 21 to 18 years and recommended keeping both the genders’ minimum legal age to marry as 18 years.

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