Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021; The government will have to work on boosting the situation of Education in the country

The minimum age for marriage as prescribed in the Act of 1929 for the first time, was named as Sarda Act.

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Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021; The government will have to work on boosting the situation of Education in the country

The Union Cabinet passed the proposal to bring uniformity in the marriageable age of men and women. It aims to increase the legal age of marriage of women from 18 to 21 years recently. For that matter, a task force was set up for the re-examination about the marriageable age and its correlation to health and social indices including infant mortality, and nutrition levels among the mothers and children.

Also Read: Child marriage kills more than 60 girls a day globally and 6 girls daily in South Asia: Report

Background

The minimum age for marriage as prescribed in the Act of 1929 for the first time, was named as Sarda Act. The act was renamed the Child Marriage Restraint Act (CMRA) later on. In 1978, an amendment took place which raised the minimum age of marriage to 18 years for girls and 21 years for Boys. However, the position remained also the same in the Prohibition of Child Marriages Act, 2006, which had replaced the CMRA, 1929.

Minimum marriage age under different religions

The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 applies to the Hindu religion. Section 5 of the Act prescribes the minimum age for the marriage which is 18 years and 21 years for the bride and the groom respectively. In the Islam religion, the marriage of a minor who has attained ‘Puberty’ is considered valid. Moreover, when two inter-religion marriages took place, the Special Marriage Act of 1954 is applicable. As per this Act, the prescribed as for the marriage is 18 years and 21 years for the women and men, respectively.

Interestingly, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006 also prescribes the minimum age as 18 years and 21 years for women and men, respectively. When the new law (proposed Bill) will be implemented these laws will have to be amended.

The proposed bill will curb the menace of child marriage in India

This bill will contribute towards women and child welfare and favor Women’s empowerment and gender parity. When an early marriage, and consequently early pregnancies took place it creates an impact on the nutritional levels of mothers and their children. It also impacts the health and mental wellbeing of both the mother and children. Moreover, when the marriage took place at such early age, it creates a hurdle in the educational level, living conditions, health conditions, and decision-making power of women. If this bill becomes an Act, later on, it will definitely bring positivity among the women class. The amendment will also help to curb the menace of child marriage in India.

deprived communities in India may suffer

However, the past records reveal that when the law is used, it penalizes young adults for self-arranged marriage. It is clear from the past evidence that the law to prevent child marriage does not work as they are supposed to. However, as per the National Family Health Survey, child marriage has declined which is from 27% in 2015-16 to 23% in the year 2019-20. Instead, the situation is not up to the mark. Moreover, 70% of the early marriages took place in the deprived communities such as among the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. If this law is being executed, it will simply push them to hide instead of preventing them. Further, if this Bill is being implemented it will definitely criminalize a large number of marriages. Education plays a vital role. As per the State of the World Report 2020 published by UNFPA, in India, 51 % of the young women have no education and 47 % among those who have only primary education had married by the age of 18 years. The study conducted by the International Centre for Research on Women has found that the girls out of school are 3.4 times more likely to be married or have their marriage already fixed than girls who are still in school.

The amendment overrides the personal laws

 The bill is in contradictions with the several other laws which are currently prevailing in our nation. For example, the current Bill of 2021, amends the definition of child to mean, “a male or female who has not completed twenty-one years of age”. It also overrides the personal laws of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Parsis, as well as the Special Marriage Act of 1954.

Further, the 61st Constitutional Amendment Act of 1988 defines the voting age for the elections which is 18 years. Moreover, the majority Act of 1875 defines the age of the majority, Section 3 of the majority act reads as “Every person domiciled in India shall attain the age of majority on his completing the age of eighteen years and not before.” Further, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 also recognizes a child as someone who is under the age of 18 years. Further, the bill also contradicts the Right of Children to free and compulsory education, 2009.

As per the law, a child is someone who is between the age of 6 to 14 years. Moreover, Section 2 of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016 defines the Child as “‘child’ means a person who has not completed his fourteenth year of age or such age as may be specified in the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, whichever is more;’” further, the adolescent has been defined as “‘adolescent’ means a person who has completed his fourteenth year of age but has not completed his eighteenth year”.

What National family health survey shows?

According to the most recent NFHS 5 (2019-2021), the proportion of women who got married under the age of 18 had declined to 23.3 percent, from 26.8 percent reported in NFHS-4. Around 17.7 percent of men in the age group 24-29 had been married under 21. The total fertility rate (the number of children a woman had in her lifetime), too, had declined to 2.0 from 2.2 in the previous survey.

There were wide variations in the age at which women married across States and Union Territories. If 40.8 percent of women were married off before the age of 18 in Bihar, it was 1.3 percent in Lakshadweep and 6.3 percent in Kerala. In Bihar, only 55 percent of women were literate while the corresponding figure in Lakshadweep and Kerala was 95.2 and 97 percent respectively. There was a strong correlation between education levels and the age of marriage. Yet there was a decline across the board of women who had got married under the age of 18, including in States with backward educational and social indices. For example, in Uttar Pradesh, where the Prime Minister justified raising the age of marriage while addressing a program on women’s empowerment, 15.8 percent of women were found to be married under the age of 18, a decline from 21.1 percent in NFHS 4. In Chhattisgarh, the decline was sharper, from 21.3 to 12.1 percent; in Haryana, there was a decline of 7 percentage points. Even in Jharkhand, where 32.2 percent of women had been married before the age of 18, the numbers had declined by 5 percentage points since the last NFHS. In Rajasthan, at 25.4 percent, it had declined by 10 percentage points since the last survey. Some 28.2 percent of men in Rajasthan were also married before the age of 21. In Madhya Pradesh, a similar decline from 32.4 to 23.1 percent was observed in the case of women marrying under 18. In Punjab, it was much lower overall, at 8.7 percent. It falls further in Puducherry, 6.5 percent (10.7 in NFHS 4).

THE WAY FORWARD

The Government will have to work on boosting the situation of Education in the country. As many activists have suggested that delays in child marriages can be achieved by ensuring access to education since the practice is a social and economic issue.

Further, the govt. should increase the Accessibility to schools. The government must provide increasing access to schools and colleges for girls, including their transportation to these institutes. Moreover, the govt. should also run a Mass Awareness program to aware of new legislation and should encourage people to accept the new changes as it is for the benefit of the general masses.

References:

The Daily Guardian: https://thedailyguardian.com/an-analysis-of-the-prohibition-of-child-marriage-amendment-bill-a-bill-which-contradicts-other-laws/

The Hindu: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/proposed-amendments-to-marriage-age-contradict-other-laws/article38015428.ece

The Frontline Hindu: https://frontline.thehindu.com/social-issues/gender/the-prohibition-of-child-marriage-amendment-bill-has-a-flawed-notion-of-gender-justice/article38054966.ece

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Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021; The government will have to work on boosting the situation of Education in the country
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The minimum age for marriage as prescribed in the Act of 1929 for the first time, was named as Sarda Act.
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THE POLICY TIMES
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