Author : Saman Nadeem, Student at Siddhartha Law College.
There have been already many debates on legal age of marriage, but it gained its popularity again when on 15th August 2020, Prime Minister threw light on his view of increasing the age of marriage for girls from 18 years to 21 years. Since then there has been many discussions on this all over again. Deciding the age of marriage is something very pivotal of nature and it cannot be done overnight. There is need to discuss so many hurdles, so many factors and then finally decide that whether we really need it? Because this is something which would affect the larger population of society and even the women on whose behalf this decision is being taken would be greatly affected by such increase in age of marriage. A marriage is a bond between two people and when we refer to India then it is bond between two families, and taking decision like such, on behalf of such a large population is risk taking. Women’s personal life would be affected and the major group of people who would be affected by such is Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste. It would lead to criminalizing Adivasis and Dalits, who are already vulnerable section of our society. The article focuses on all such matters and try to bring out all such factors, so that reader may decide that whether this would be helpful or it carries disaster much bigger than its positive side. As per the National Family Health Survey (2015-2016) the age of marriage for girls in India depends on various factors, such as, religion, region, education level, financial status of family, and caste.
IMPETUS OF EARLY MARRIAGES IN INDIA
If we consider the situation of India, most of the marriages are being done in India, at very early stage at the principle that as much as less mouth to feed as much as little burden would be there on the family. The families dealing with poverty and hardly able to earn their daily bread, and they think it a better way that they get their daughter married, as this would reduce the burden from their family. Also marrying a girl at younger age means less dowry. Its been years since the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act was enacted, and even after so many years we have not achieved the required goals. In this very pandemic the cases of child marriage increased as the people were not able to feed their family and marrying their daughter lowered their encumbrance. The reason also includes very backward belief that if they don’t get their daughter married at early stage then she may lose her virginity, also the fear that what people might say when they come to know that their daughter has yet not got married. Getting married and taking care of family is regarded as the main task of the women in India. The reason which government stated for increasing the age of marriage is maternal mortality and to make nutrition level improved.
INDIA AND MATERNAL MORTALITY.
Maternal mortality means death of the women who was pregnant or who had abortion and dies within 42 days of such termination. India’s current maternal mortality is 122 per 100,000 births, and one of the reason stated by the government for increasing the age of marriage is maternal mortality but India does not have any research or data regarding the factors on which they could determine that what should be the age. But at the same time if we refer to the data of other 38 countries then we would clearly witness that those who marries at the age of 15 to 19 have less possibility of maternal mortality, and generally the women who faces maternal mortality is one who gets married below the age of 16 or so, and the second phase of age group that faces maternal mortality is in women’s 30’s and so on. So determining these factors we could easily witness that the correct age of marrying should be from 15 to 19. But still it should be totally on discretion of women that at what age she decides to marry.
SWAY ON DALITS AND ADIVASIS BY INCREASING AGE OF MARRIAGE
There has been evidence that shows that in rural areas parents use the existing laws to punish their children is they marry without their concern. As per the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006, the legal age of marriage for girls is 18 years and for boys is 21 years. And if the children marry without the consent of their parents and they are below the age of 21 then parents use it as weapon for their own arrogant satisfaction. Sometimes boys face life imprisonment for this, and increasing the age of marriage would act as a hurdle for children like this, and would act as a weapon for parents. Also, the families who have too many children would be affected by this at large, as they would have got their daughters married and would have lessen their burden, but if the age is increased then they would be bound by law to carry this encumbrance a little longer. But at the same time, when they would not be left with any options then they would for sure get their daughter married and thus leading to making them criminals. And we cannot ignore the fact that they capture a large population and thus making such a large population criminal, would also increase the burden of courts on such matters, when there are already plenty of cases pending in courts.45 per cent of the Scheduled Tribe and 25.9 per cent of the Scheduled castes, marry their daughters due to social and economic issues. The National Family Health Survey states that 42 percent of ST and 33 percent of SC women between the age group of 15- 49 years does not receive schooling facility.
ASSETS OF INCREASING THE LEGAL AGE OF MARRIAGE
- Revamp Health: – marriages at early age and early pregnancy leads to diseases like anaemia, deficiency of vitamins in body, mineral and protein deficiency, and increasing the age of marriage would surely help in overcoming these drawbacks, as the women would get sufficient time for their own growth and progress.
- Control at increasing population: – when we talk about the best age group for fertility of pregnancy then the age from 18 years to 28 years is considered as the best period, and thus increasing the age would lead to less fertility and thus leading to less population.
SQUANDERS OF SUCH ACT
- Encumbrance on poor families: – Increasing the age of marriage would increase the burdens f poor families as they would have to wait that their daughter turns 21 and then they can get her marry. Families struggling for even their daily bread would see it as bane.
- Infanticide: – the families such as Dalits and Adivasis and other families who cannot afford expenses of their daughter for very long period of time, and now they have to wait for 21years so that finally they can get their daughter married would lead their steps towards practices like infanticide.
- Increase in Domestic Abuse: – this may lead to increasing the case of domestic violence and exploitation of women, as their anger would be released at the women.
After coming across all the advantages and disadvantages, reasons and actual situation, I could easily say that the step need a lot of planning, no doubt that increasing the age of marriage would be golden step, but this step includes a lot of drawbacks with it and we cannot ignore this, because this drawback affect the larger section of society. I personally belief that the decision of correct age of marriage should be at the hand of the women who will be married and who would be facing any consequences further. Marrying at later age has always been beneficial on the part of women, as they get to know the world on their own, they get the chance to fulfil their goals, but we cannot focus on particular sector, we need to focus on many other factors and groups of our society. By focusing on all the sectors and groups of the society, we can achieve peace and harmony. And that is how the society is being run in this fast and furious world.
 Supra note 2