In June 2020, Jaya Jaitly Committee was set up by the Ministry of Women and Child to look into the relationship between the age of marriage with women’s nutrition, the prevalence of anemia, the Infant Mortality Rate and Maternal Mortality Rate. This committee suggested increasing the marriage age from 18 to 21. The government has given a green signal to increase the age of women from 18 to 21 in December 2021. This incentive is taken by the government to empower women and bring parity amongst men and women but then why is this proposal facing criticism by many NGOs and organizations working for women’s betterment?
This well intended project might have opposite consequences. As of 2019-20 data around 23% of the marriages that happen in India is child marriage, and with this increase in marriage age this percentage may rise. In 1978, the Sharda Act was introduced to increase the marriage act from 16 to 18 and the main reason behind this act was to prevent child marriage. Even after 4 decades, the statistics clearly show disappointment. The decrease in child marriage is beacuse of the awareness amongst the people, not because of the law. Tribal and rural areas still witness a lot of child marriages so instead of bringing change in structure, the government should try to solve the problem to orthodox mentality.
Nearly 50-60% of marriages take place before the age of 21 in India. Due to this new amendment in prohibition of Child Marriage, all such marriage will get criminalised. The criminalisation of these marriages has a hazardous effect on the girls as they can’t report abuse and other crimes against them by their husbands. Child marriage in India is deep rooted in social and cultural norms. These marriages are a result of gender discrimination, lack of awarness and education and conservative mindset. Raising the age will not help to solve this but will lead to an increase in underground marriages.
One of the main reasons why the government is reluctant to bring this amendment is to help with the problem of malnutrition and anemia, infant and maternal mortality. But certain surveys and reports attribute the reason behind all these problems to poverty, not the age of marriage. Therefore improving access to nutrition, free and accessible health care and tackling poverty are better methods of improving health among women.
This initiative by the government is to educate women so they can graduate and land jobs and become financially independent. But for all this to happen, the government should provide easy access to higher studies for women, proper and safe transportation, and job opportunities. The government should focus on core problems like poverty, education, gender discrimination, healthcare facilities. Instead of bringing new laws or changing existing law, the government should try to impose existing law properly.