This short write-up is written by Ms. Parul Gupta from ICFAI University, Rajasthan
The legal age of valid marriage for women in India is to be revised from 18 years of age to 21 years as the government has formed a High-Level Committee to look into the matter and submit its report by 31st July 2020. It shall be lead by former President of Samata Party, Mrs. Jaya Jaitely, and will have members from Health Department and NITI Aayog.
The Committee will examine the matters related to motherhood and marriage at an early age. These may include :-
1.The age of mother
2.Imperatives of lowering maternal mortality Rate
3. Improvement of nutrition levels and related issues
The History of Laws regarding Minimum Age of Marriage of Girls
The law explains a minimum age of marriage to essentially outlaw child marriages and prevent abuse of minors. The Indian Penal Code implemented in 1860 criminalized any sexual intercourse with a girl below the age of 10.
Sarda Act of 1929
- In 1929, the child Marriage Restraint Act sets minimum age of marriage for women is 14 years and for men 18 years.
- The law is popularly known as Sarda act after it was sponsored by Harbilas Sarda, a judge and a member of Arya Samaj.
- The act remained ineffective during the colonial period of British rule in India.
- 1978- Sarda act amended. Since then, the minimum lawful age for valid marriage has been 18 for women and 21 for men.
- 2006- Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 also explains 18 and 21 years as the minimum age of consent for marriage for women and men respectively.
The Various Laws
- Personal laws of various religion that deal with marriage have their own standards, many a times reflecting custom.
- For Hindus, section 5(iii) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 sets the minimum age of marriage 18 years for the bride and 21 years as the minimum age for the groom.
- In Islam, the marriage of a minor who has attained puberty is considered valid marriage under personal law.
Problems Arising Out of Early Marriage
Data indicates that girls who are married before the age of 18 are:-
- More likely to meet with unwanted pregnancies.
- Endangered to sexually transmitted diseases and
- High risk of pregnancy related complications and maternal mortality.
- Lack the recourse to proper education and access to health care, antenatal care, skilled child delivery and the complete vaccination of the infants.
How Big a Problem is This?
- In 2005-2006, 44.5% of women between the ages of 20-24 years in India reported being married under 18 years of age.
- As per a UNICEF study, around 27% of the women in India are married before attaining the age of 18 years.
- Girls in the age group of 15-19 who died due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth in the year 2017-35,000. The number was 103,000 in 2000.