The Union Cabinet’s Proposal for bringing uniformity in the marriageable age of men and women is certainly a progressive step to realise Goal 5 of the SDGs which asks nation-states to formulate policies to achieve gender equality. However, good intent does not guarantee favourable outcomes. Coercive laws without wide societal support often fail to deliver even when their statement of objects and reasons aims for the larger public good.
The Current Laws
For Hindus, The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, sets 18 years as the minimum age of marriage 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. 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.
Possible benefits of increasing women’s marriage age
- Increasing Legal Marriageable Age Protection of Basic Rights: Protection of women against early and child marriage is a protection of their basic rights and this monumental step will lead to changes in related legislative frameworks to provide a comprehensive rights-based framework for the aadhi aabadi.
- Gender Parity: Section 2(a) of the Special Marriage Act declares legal marriageable age women as 18 while for men this age is 21, the difference seems to have no justifiable logic. The age of voting can be equal for men and women, the age to consensually, wilfully, and validly enter into a contract is the same for men and women, then why not instill equality in the age requirements for marriage. Equal Laws Emanate Equality: Equality emanates from equal laws and social transformations are both the precursors of laws and a consequence of them.
- A change in law is also more likely to bring changes in social perceptions in progressive societies.
- Facilitating Women Empowerment: There are various indicators of growth in women specially in enrolment of female students in higher education.
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