By Prof. Vivek Singh
On occasion of 74th Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his 7th address has given indication to increase legal age of marriage for girls. In India, under the Sarda Act of 1929, the minimum age of marriage for boys was 18 and that of girls was 14 years. At present the minimum age of marriage in India is prescribed as per Hindu Marriage Act 1955, Special Marriage Act 1954, Child Marriage Act 2006 for 18 years for girls and 21 years for boys. While presenting the budget for 2020-21 Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman proposed to form a task force on the minimum age of marriage.
Increasing the minimum age of marriage will benefit the country, society, new couples and especially girls. While increasing the minimum age of marriage will make it easier for the country to control population growth, daughters will not be seen as a burden in the society because by that age girls will have completed their studies and become financially independent too. New couples will be more mature and their decision making will be better. Both will be able to make their future bright, happy and beautiful. Girls will get more opportunities for education. Family and social pressure will minimise on girls for marriage. Girls will be able to avoid the problems of maternity at a young age and the maternal mortality rate will also come down.
According to a report 3 crore 76 lakh marriages have taken place in the last 5 years in India. Of these, 1 crore 37 lakh girls were married at the age of 18 to 19 years while 75 lakh girls were married at the age of 20 to 21 years. If we talk about rural areas, out of the total 3.76 crore marriages that have taken place in the last 5 years, 2.55 crore marriages were held only in rural areas, which is about 68% of the country’s total marriages. In these 2 crore 55 lakh rural marriages completed in 5 years, the age of the girl was just 18 to 21 years in 61% of the cases.
According to the UNICEF report, 27% of girls in India are married at the age of 18 while 7% of girls get married at less than 15 years of age having direct impact on maternal capacity, maternal mortality during childbirth and the population. According to the data for the year 2017, the maternal mortality rate in the country was 122 per one lakh.
The determination of the minimum age of marriages of boys and girls all over the world is divided into three parts. Weddings with judicial permission, with parental permission, and without parental or judicial permission. In all the three situations, the minimum age of marriage of boys or girls in a country can be same or different.
In some countries, the minimum age of marriage of girls has not yet been determined by law which includes countries such as Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The minimum marriage age for a girls in Lebanon is 9 years. The minimum marriage age of girls in Iran is 13 years while the minimum marriage age of girls in Kuwait is 15 years. As of 2010 the minimum age of marriage for girls is 18 years in 158 countries of the world.
The minimum age of marriage for girls in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Qatar and Britain is 16 years. In North Korea, Syria, Uzbekistan the minimum age for marriage of girls is 17 years. In countries like India, America, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, Russia, Brazil and Sri Lanka, the minimum age for marriage of girls is fixed at 18 years. In countries like Algeria and South Korea, the minimum age for marriage of girls is 19 years while in Japan, China, Nepal, Thailand the minimum age limit is 20 years for girls. The minimum marriage age for girls in Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria and Philippines is 21 years.
For marriage in China, the age of boys should be minimum 22 years and and of girls 20 years. For marriage in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the age of the boys should be minimum 18 years and that of the girls 16 years. The minimum age for marriage in Bhutan is 18 years for both boys and girls. In Indonesia, the minimum age of marriage for boys is 21 years and that of girls is 19 years. The minimum age of marriage in North Korea for boys is 18 years and of girls 17 years. In Kuwait the minimum age of marriage for boys is 17 years and that of girls is 15 years while in the Philippines the minimum age for marriage of a boy is 21 years and the minimum age for a girl is 18 years.
Now the question is what should be the legal age of marriage of girls and boys in India? I think the minimum age of marriage of boys and girls should be increased by 3 years. The minimum age of marriage for girls should be increased from 18 years to 21 years and that of boys from 21 years to 24 years. If it is not possible, government should only increase legal age of marriage of girls from 18 years to 21 years. Now minimum age of marriage of both girls and boys will be the same, 21 years.
This decision will address issue of gender equality as well. It automatically reduce the ability to produce children, control over population growth, reduce maternal mortality during childbirth, give girls the right of education and grow, help girls to become self-sufficient. The decision to raise the minimum age for marriage will free the country from many types of social and economic problems. The indication of increasing the legal age of marriage of girls by Prime Minister Narendra Modi may be announced in coming days by the government.
(The author is columnist, professor of Commerce, Political and Economic Analyst. He can be reached at [email protected])