The Jaya Jaitley parliamentary standing committee seeks to increase the marriageable age of women from 18 to 21 years of age.
Arguments in support:
The Jaitley Committee has cited international studies that show that children born to adolescent mothers (10-19) years are more likely to be stunted and of low weight than those born to young adults (21-24).
Young Lives India, a think tank, reports that China recorded a decrease in stunting in
children when it increased the age of marriage in women.
The Government states that increasing the age will hence help in achieving various
goals including improvement of maternal and infant mortality rates (IMR and
MMR),nutritional levels, sex ratio at birth(SRB),Female Labor Force Participation,
educational attainment among women and gender equality, hence lead to women
According to Pew Research centre, a large number of countries have capped the marital
age for women at 18 years, like Australia, Finland, Israel, and Russia.
In 2008, the Law Commission had suggested that 18 should be made the legal age of
marriage for both men and women. Even the United Nations General Assembly had
recommended this in 1989.
Besides, the international treaty Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination
against Women (CEDAW), also calls for the abolition of laws that assume women have
a different physical or intellectual rate of growth than men.
UNICEF estimates suggest that each year, at least 1.5 million girls under the age of 18
are married in India, which makes the country home to the largest number of child
brides in the world — accounting for a third of the global total. Nearly 16 per cent
adolescent girls aged 15-19 are currently married. Hence, the laws have clearly failed
to implement even the marriageable age of 18 years in practice.
POCSO’s wide ambit of criminalization requires health providers to report underage
patients seeking sexual and reproductive health services to the police. Hence, the
resulting prosecutions of consenting minors will increase with the increased age. This
will not only obstruct timely justice delivery for sexual abuse cases, but also push girls
towards unsafe services.
A series of three studies by Partners for Law in Development (PLD) shows that legal
prosecutions against forced/arranged underage marriages are risk-laden for the girl and
the social workers.
Their study of district and high court child marriage cases from 2008–17 reports that
two-thirds of legal prosecutions are initiated by parents of girls against elopements,
whereas only one-third involve annulments or injunctions relating to arranged
Hence, Nandlal Mishra writes that the move would be counterproductive as women’s
attainment of decision-making power will be further delayed and they are put into the
so-called protective care of parental control.
The Government argues that delayed marriages will ensure better health of women,
both reproductive or otherwise. But, if girls and women remain malnourished from birth
onwards, getting married at 21 instead of 18, and having their first child at 22 instead
of 19 cannot really improve the possibility of maternal and child survival and health.
Ms. Jaitley, at the head of this parliamentary committee, has herself stated that raising
the age of marriage is only one of its many recommendations. Others include a strong
campaign to reform patriarchal mindsets, improving access to education by providing
girls safe transport to schools and ensuring toilets and sanitary napkins so girls don’t
drop out, providing sex education, as well as vocational training and livelihood options.
Hence, she believes that unless all of the recommendations go with it, there is no
justification to raise the age of marriage because it is like "making traffic rules without
providing good roads or traffic lights.
Other recommendations by experts may include strengthening the ICDS Scheme,
extending RTE Act to 18 years and providing free legal aid through government
helpline for women being forced into unwanted marriages at any age.