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Indian Marriage – A number game

The Modi government introduced the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, which seeks to raise the marriageable age of women to 21 years, making it equal for both men and women. This measure has sparked debate, with some questioning if it will empower women or is just a band-aid solution. 

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Smriti Irani, the Union Minister for Women and Child Development, tabled the six-section bill in the Lok Sabha. The Indian Christian Marriage Act, the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, the Special Marriage Act, the Hindu Marriage Act and the Foreign Marriage Act are all proposed to be amended. It strives to establish a consistent marriage age across all religions, regardless of any legislation, custom, or practice.

Introduced with women’s progress in mind. The bill wants to ensure the physical, mental and reproductive health of women in the country. But is it so? Is it truly a revolutionary move or just another alternative for atrocities against women in society? 

To understand the current scenario, it is important to know about the marriage act and several amendments done in it over the years. 

The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955:

The act extends to the whole of India except Jammu and Kashmir and also to Hindus domiciled in other countries. It applies to any person who is a Hindu by religion in any form or development. 

The bridegroom should have completed the age of 21 years at the time of marriage and the bride should have completed 18 years. 

The Muslim Marriage Act, 1954:

This act was drafted in the Indian Legal system in 1954. In India, it governs the solemnization of marriages within the Muslim population. Both the groom and the bride must consent to the marriage of their own free choice, according to this Act. A religiously acceptable Muslim marriage requires a binding contract that explains the bride and groom’s rights and responsibilities, either verbally or in writing.  This act also excludes the state of Jammu and Kashmir. 

The age of the groom should be 21 years and the bride should be 18 years of age. If it is not the case then the consent to such marriage will be in presence of the following.

a. Father if living

b. If the father is dead, the guardians lawfully appointed or of one of them

c. If there is no guardian, then of the mother

d. If there is no mother living, then of such other persons as may be appointed by the Minister

There are other clauses as well but the most important of all for the issue at hand is the legal age of marriage. Both the Hindu and Muslim Marriage act demands the age of bride and groom to be 21 and 18 respectively or above ever since the formation. 

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The Age Factor:

The legal age to marry has increased over the years but has remained different for men and women. The legal age to marry for girls was raised from 14 to 15 and subsequently 18 in 1978, similarly for boys had been raised from 18 to 21 years in the same year. This was initiated to prevent child marriages and minor abuse. 

While the 205th Law Commission of India report, released in February 2008, strongly advocated for an 18-year-old marriage age, stating that “there is no scientific reason why this should be different.” In a consultation document published in August 2018, the Law Commission recommended that the age of marriage be established at 18 years.

Although the bill is conceived to be raising the legal age of women, it amends the definition of child to mean “a male or female who has not completed twenty-one years of age. 

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Ever since the bill has been introduced there are polarizing reactions to the same. As the question of a child is involved, many ask the central government as to why the legal age of voting, the age of majority can be 18 and not for marriage. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act 2012 and Juvenile Justice Act 2015 also defines a child below 18. Many say it overrides the personal laws of Hindus, Christians, Parsis as well as the Special Marriage Act, 1954. 

Do senior advocates and leaders oppose the bill by asking what exactly the government means by a child? 

AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi opposed the bill stating that it violates Muslim personal law. MPs of SP were against the proposal too: “India is an impoverished country, and everyone wants their girls to marry young. In Parliament, I will vote against the bill, ” said Shafiqur Rahman Barq, a member of the SP LS. Choudhry Sanjay Kalkhandey, head of Khap said that the decision to raise the age of marriage for women will have an “adverse effect” on society. 

They further went on to comment that raising the legal age will invite more troubles as girls would become freer and will act irresponsibly. They also demanded to reduce the legal age of men from 21 to 18 years. 

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Parties believe that this is a quick fix towards the Uniform Civil Code, which BJP is trying to implement in the entire nation. 

Well, we have to wait and observe the turn of events that will eventually take place as the bill is to be introduced in Rajya Sabha this week. Will 21 be able to solve the issues at par or will it become just another number game to distract society? 

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