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Govt mulling revising legal age of marriage for girls, says PM Modi

"To end malnutrition among girls, to assess what should be the age of marriage, we have set-up a committee," the PM stated.

Narendra Modi, Nirmala Sitharaman, Marriage Age, Jaya Jaitly, Child Marriage Act

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  16 Aug 2020 11:54 AM GMT

In a hint that Indian government is considering revising upward the legal age of marriage for girls which is currently 18 years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated on Saturday.

He decided on "what should be the right age of marriage for girls" would be taken as soon as a committee set-up to study the issue submits its report.

"To end malnutrition among girls, to assess what should be the age of marriage, we have set-up a committee," the PM stated..

Now, the legal age of marriage in India is 18 years for girls, while it is 21 for boys. Anaemia and malnutrition are common disorders in underage mothers and relate to marriages taking place in the 16-18 age group. That proportion, though declining, is significant even now.

As per reports, the task force headed by social activist Jaya Jaitly was set-up in June as a follow-up to the announcement made by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman in the Union budget for 2020-21 where she stated, "women's age of marriage was increased from 15 to 18 years in 1978, by amending the Sharda Act of 1929.

As India makes it way for prospects in higher education and careers, opportunities unlock for women. It is vital to lower maternal mortality ratio (MMR) and also improvement of nutrition levels. The crucial impact lies in the age of a girl entering motherhood as it seeks light."

It is a mandate for the task force to survey matters concerning the age of motherhood, lowering maternal mortality rate, development of nutritional levels and related issues. A detailed suggestive suitable to legislations or amendments in existing laws with a rollout plan with timelines to reinforce these recommendations. A report is expected till July 31 by the task force as a submission to the government.

The 2001 census states, "In the age group of 15-49 years — the prime child bearing age group — 81.4% of women are married. This percentage is high due to lower female age at marriage in many parts of the country."

The age of marriage has been a point of debate for long. The National Human Rights Commission too has raised the need for uniform age for marriage for both men and women from time to time. In 140 countries the age of marriage is 18 for both men and women.

Even the Law Commission in a consultative paper on family laws in 2018 suggested that the legal age for marriage for both men and women across religions should be recognized at 18 years, the universal age for majority.

It does not, however, seem likely that the male age of marriage will be reduced given the government's focus on dealing with malnutrition in underage and young brides. Settling a very critical issue pertaining to under age marriages, the Supreme Court in 2017 had ruled that "sexual intercourse with a minor wife amounts to rape, as under no circumstances can a child below 18 years give consent, express or implied, for sexual intercourse". However, the government's proposal to bring the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act in synchronisation with the judgement to make child marriages "void ab initio" (invalid at the outset) is yet to take the shape of a decision.

An analysis of child marriage and teenage pregnancies shared by National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and voluntary organisation Young Lives in 2018 shows that while overall prevalence of child marriage among 15 -19 year – old girls declined significantly from 26.5% in 2005-06 to 11.9% in 2015-16, poverty and status of education are key factors in the circumstances that lead to child marriage. The study also reveals that amongst the married girls aged 15 to 19 years, 31.5% girls were found to have babies. Almost a quarter of the married girls in the age group of 15 to 16 years had at least one baby.

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