The Indian government recently proposed a bill to raise the legal marriage age for women from 18 to 21. If it were to become law, all women, regardless of faith, would be required to marry at age 21. The government raised the marriage age in India from 16 to 18 years old. The current bill was implemented for two reasons: first, to protect girls from child marriages; second, the age of 18 is inappropriate because it forces girls to abandon their studies and force them into marriage. By raising the age, we would give girls the time they need to complete their education because the current law prohibits them from getting married before age 21, which might benefit them. After all, it would buy them some time for a better future. Another reason is that as girls age, their physical and mental health will likewise mature.
Concerns about the bill
Though the government has produced a bill that sounds excellent in theory and has made progress toward gender equality and its concern for girls’ education in the nation, several concerns about the bill have been raised. The majority act of 1875 specifies that every individual domiciled in India must reach majority at 18 years of age and not before. Thus it is first essential to understand why there is a disparity between the marriage age, which is proposed to be 21 for each gender. If a person enters adulthood at the age of 18, why cannot they or must they wait another three years when they have the legal right to vote, are deemed old enough to drive, and are otherwise treated as adults in all situations other than marriage?
Another question is, what is the reasoning behind the 21 years of age? The justification for the current law’s minimum marriage age of 18 is that it discourages child weddings, safeguards children, and forbids abuse of a minor. The proposed rule, however, lacks this justification and the stated issue.
A loophole in the process
The proposed bill prohibits marriage before the age of 21. However, suppose child marriages are taken into account. In that case, the rules remain the same because these marriages are not considered void ab initio, which means they are not void from the very beginning, nor are they considered illegal; instead, they can be dissolved at the request of either party. Therefore, under the law, child marriages are not illegal, but they can be dissolved at the request of either party. Any party can indeed go which, after two years of reaching the age of majority, permits a minor party to repudiate the marriage or have it annulled3 This means marriage is legal as long as the minor wants to wed. However, the child’s choice is typically influenced by the family member’s choices because, in India, children are taught from an early age to move and act according to the family’s will. If they do otherwise, they risk being cast out or even killed.
Additionally, it is impossible to avoid marriage in a patriarchal society or a long-established nation like ours since, for the person, it is a custom continued from the past. In order to prevent them from disobeying marriage orders, laws governing the legitimacy of underage weddings should be passed while also considering cultural diversity. The proposed measure attempts to stop the practice of getting children married as soon as possible in rural India by making the legal marriage age 21. This will prevent girls from getting married before they are old enough to enroll in college. However, according to government figures, the typical married woman in India is 22.1 years old. According to the data, most Indian women marry at a young age—22—which is still older than the government-imposed marriage age of 21. Given that the remaining members of the other category are not any less in number,
So the bill felt good in theory as it promised the less fortunate group in society and help the girls whom their families previously forced to get married as soon as they reached 18, but now the law attempts to give some extra years to her though it is not much thought about is she even given a fair chance or just a bit of pseudo luck by chance kind. Therefore, I believe it is a good law in theory but not in practice. As we all know, it is crucial that girls not be forced into marriage and that they have time to gain intellectual and financial stability. However, the law has the potential to evolve as a tool for parents and society to control a girl even more than before, and now, until she turns 21, the law can be used by parents in those cases against the girl overwhelmingly. An Indian father feeling for the safety of an unmarried daughter, gets them married according to the social norms. However, if a girl is now against the family’s will, she cannot marry him legally after attaining a majority.
The family will have even more control over their daughters now that they cannot rebel against it because it would be impossible for them, and this law can develop as a clutch to the girls, forcing them to move by the will of the family and society. If she chooses to marry an inter-caste person—which she previously could do after reaching majority but may not be able to do now due to the increasing age—she may not be able to do so.
Though the bill has good potential, the government must think about why it needs the bill in the first place. If the answer is for education, then it should reconsider the bill as the bill cannot deal with the proposed topic accordingly. Instead, it clutches the wing of girls who are far from getting control of their life and educating them is a farfetched idea. If the bill is introduced without counterproductive measures, it would be more troublesome for them to endure a gender-equal society. The idea of an egalitarian society would seem farther from here.
Author(s) Name: Madhvendra Pal Singh (Himachal Pradesh National Law University, Shimla)
 The print <https://theprint.in/india/parliamentary-panel-gets-extension-for-examining-child-marriage-amendment-bill/1003079/> accessed 7 July 2022
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legislative.gov <https://legislative.gov.in/sites/default/files/A2007-06.pdf > accessed 8 July2022
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