Union Cabinet clears proposal to increase ‘marriage age’ for women to 21 years

The clearance is based on recommendations submitted to Niti Aayog in December 2020 by the Centre’s task force, headed by Jaya Jaitly.

The task force was constituted to examine ‘matters pertaining to age of motherhood, imperatives of lowering MMR (Maternal Mortality Rate), improvement of nutritional levels and related issues.’

According to a report in The Indian Express, The Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 also prescribe 18 and 21 years as the minimum age of consent for marriage for women and men, respectively. For the new age of marriage to be implemented, these laws are expected to be amended.

According to data released by UNICEF, one in three world’s child brides lives in India. Of the country’s 223 million child brides, 102 million were married before turning 15.

Over half of Indian child brides live in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Maharashtra.

As a consequence of early marriage, the child brides give birth as adolescents and have larger families than the women who marry later.

Child and women’s rights activists, as well as population and family planning experts have not been in favor of increasing the age of marriage for women.

In their view, a legislation would push a large portion of the population into illegal marriages. They have said the law would end up being coercive, and in particular negatively impact marginalized communities, such as the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes, making them law-breakers.