This existential dilemma into the issue of the legal age of marriage, which is set at 18 years old. Is this a blessing or a curse? Marriage in the Modern Era Marriage is a vital part of your life. Yet, the age decided for it is so young, that a person is barely mature enough to understand the… Read More »

This existential dilemma into the issue of the legal age of marriage, which is set at 18 years old. Is this a blessing or a curse?

Marriage in the Modern Era

Marriage is a vital part of your life. Yet, the age decided for it is so young, that a person is barely mature enough to understand the sanctity of the word. In India, the legal age of marriage is set to be 18 years for girls and 21 for boys, which creates a gap. It provides boys with an opportunity to stand up on their own, and at the same time, it robs off girls to pursue their dreams and make a career.

Early marriage comes at a cost. It not only leads to women not being able to study further, but most of the time also lead to child marriages, early pregnancies and so much more. So, when legislation is passed by the ruling political party, it leads to the creation of battlefields.

A girl should be given an equal opportunity, as it is given to boys, to earn and be equal to a man and she certainly cannot achieve that, since she has 18 years when a man gets to have 21 years.

Introduction

Marriage, is such an important aspect of an individual’s life, that yet, when it comes to the question, “What is the right age for marriage?”, it seems like people have got their lips sealed, especially on the national television. Now they might not know the correct answer to the question, but what they do know is, to give an answer which will likely lead to controversies, put them into the limelight, and make them the person who is going to represent the whole of the nation’s ideologies.

Meaning of Marriage

Traditionally and naturally speaking, marriage, as we all are aware is a union of two souls, one of which is a male and another female. For two people to be married, it is a given that they both should be of legal age, i.e., 18 years for women and 21 for men. It is quite assuming of the policymakers to even entertain the fact that both the parties would be mature enough to enter into something which is a sacrament and not a contract.

People are well-versed with the fact that for two people to enter into a contract as per the Indian Contract Act, 1872, both should be of major age i.e., 18 years of age, with a sound mind, must enter into it willingly[1]. But marriage is not a contract, it is sacred. It binds two people by the holy invisible thread of matrimony, so how could two people, possibly so young, can understand the sacredness of marriage?

Enough with the details of the Indian Contract Act, even the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, clearly states that, “Where such rites and ceremonies include the Saptapadi (that is, the taking of seven steps by the bridegroom and the bride jointly before the sacred fire), the marriage becomes complete and binding when the seventh step is taken.[2]

The question which arises now is that how could two persons, who might be of legal age to get married can marry each other when if they ask their parents are not even allowed to go on a ‘Goa trip’, but when it comes to a thing like marriage, they are suddenly mature in the eyes of their parents and we are not talking about just being mature, we here are talking about being mature, which not only means to get married but to also give them grandkids, irrespective of the fact whether the couple is in a position to start a family or not.

Steals a Girl’s Right to Shine

General calculations reveal, that, students finish their schooling by the age they reach 18 or 19. Now if we talk about girls here, a girl who has just finished high school, how could be possible in the mind frame of getting married straight out of school. Not everyone comes from the same family background, not everyone has an understanding family, neither does every family member has an open mindset. So many people still consider their daughters as a burden.

They think by marrying off their daughters as soon as she attains the age of majority will help them get rid of the so-called ‘burden’. Many people think that if daughters are over-educated, no boy would like to be in a relationship with her, since she will like to call the shots as much as possible. On top of that, they seem to think that education robs off a woman of her healthy, “fertile years”, and, so if she doesn’t get married in her early 20s, her chance of becoming a mother will gradually decrease too.

Education is clearly considered as a ticking time-bomb and not something, which is necessary for survival like basic life skills.As compared to girls, boys are legally allowed to marry when they turn 21. By the time, a boy or a young man turns 21, he has barely graduated from university with his under-graduation degree. And the really astonishing thing is that how is it expected from him that he will not only get married, take care of not only his own needs but on the top of that his spouse as well. Isn’t there any need for him to settle first?

And, this thing just does not stop here, as soon as the couple celebrates their first or second wedding anniversary, there are demands made by the in-laws from both sides for grandkids. Demands which are made on the grounds that their daughter-in-law is living her most fertile years, so, she will be able to deliver healthy babies, be the best mother there is to her kids, which, in my opinion, sounds utterly absurd.

Even if I don’t really want to, I have no choice but to say it, that this, this is the 21st century, and that we are living in the year 2022 and, it might definitely not be an era filled with flying cars, but it definitely is the time period where we have robots, people celebrating Pride in the month of June, moreover, it is that era which has normalized the concept of ‘work from home’.

In this time, where women are found fighting for reasons like equality, it doesn’t seem like it has impacted people at all, because one thing, or rather a question, which remains to be constant after all this time is, “When is your daughter going to get married, isn’t she of the age?”.

It is extremely disheartening to know that even now, a girl’s worth is tied up with the fact whether she is married or not, and not with her skills to perform open-heart surgery, deliver babies, fly an aeroplane, being able to negotiate and settle in the court, no, because it never was the scene. All that some people care about is whether she has “bagged a nice guy” to settle with or not. And, even if she hasn’t, what would these people do, help her find one?

The whole concept of setting a different age limit for marriage is totally illogical. Whosoever believed that by setting the age of marriage to 18 for girls and 21 for boys, on the sole criterion of a pre-conceived notion that girls mature faster than boys, certainly didn’t know that there are certain things, certain circumstances which only a girl goes through and a boy doesn’t. So, if anything, girls should be given extra time before they dive into the pool of responsibilities which they will surely get a lot of, after getting married.

Not only this, but this whole gap of three years clearly violates the fundamental right of the people of the State, as enshrined in the Indian Constitution. As mentioned in the Indian Constitution’s article, “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.[3]” No further evidence is needed in support of the fact, that the ideology infringes the Right to Equality, which is a fundamental right of the people of the State.

Outdated Mindset and its Impact

The mentality that girls mature faster than boys has made the girls feel so much pressurized that it could not be explained in words. Just because of a mere age limit, the girls who had certain goals to achieve, certain dreams to fulfil in their life, remained mere dreams and goals, something they used to write about in their journals or tell their friends and people about, when somebody in their childhood asked them, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”.

Many would say that a girl can do all these things after she gets married, but the thing is, she cannot, she just cannot. It becomes next to impossible to do everything, she once wanted to do.

The boy because he is the superior gender, as everyone here in this country, time and again likes to point out, can do whatever he feels like is appropriate, is fun, even after getting married. Just because of the fact that his anatomy differs from that of a girl, he can do anything. Nobody stops a man from chasing after his dreams even after he gets married, because he is a guy and that, ultimately, he will be the breadwinner of the family. It’s high time that people realized that he is just a boy and not a superhero. Boys are hyped up so much as if they do a huge favor merely by breathing.

The reason behind this whole situation of conflict of gender, is, that, the ropes in which she gets tied into after getting married make it impossible for her to chase her dreams. Now, she has her marital responsibilities, a husband towards which she has some conjugal duties, and a family to take care of. It would require, a supporting husband, and an understanding family who will not stop her from doing so.

It is seen in the rarest of rare cases, where a girl after getting married so young can make something out of her potential which her teachers used to talk about when she was a little girl, attending the school. This is because of the reason, that very few women get the support they need in order to go after something they have long dreamt about. It is a well-known quote, “Behind every successful man, there is a woman”, I say, if the full potential of a woman needs to be unleashed, there should be a man behind her, who understands her and no one can better understand a woman than her husband after she gets married.

While we are still at this topic of ‘age limit’ decided for marriage, let us not forget that this rule of 18 and 21 years for girls and boys, respectively, does not apply to the people who profess, practice, and propagate the religion of Islam. The Shia and Sunni sects of Islam declare that as soon as a child, who was born into the family following the religion of Islam, hits the age of puberty, and not the majority, i.e., as soon as a child attains the age of 15 years, he or she is legally allowed to marry.

Seems like things just got interesting again! This conveys, that, not only there is sheer discrimination on the basis of the sex of a person, but also, the religion they belong to. Has anyone ever thought of the picture it might paint of the whole nation? Clearly not. The reason being, if this was ever thought of, it might not be the case. The policymakers just let the sleeping dogs lie.

Debate on the “appropriate” age of marriage

When on December 16, 2021, a Bill was proposed by the Narendra Modi Administration for raising the legal age for marriage to 21 years for both men and women in order to bridge the gap between the earlier set ages, which were 18 and 21 years for women and men respectively, it led to stirring up of debates across the nation. The Minister for Women and Child Development, Smriti Irani stated in front of Parliament, “I would like to present that women equality in our country needs to be seen in (terms of) age of marriage.

Invoking different marriage laws of different faiths, I rise to introduce the amendment bill.[4]” The step which was taken with the motive of ensuring gender parity and women empowerment instead of receiving support, received nothing but backlashes, from the political opposition parties, namely, Indian National Congress and, AIMIM i.e., All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen. The opponents pointed out that, an 18-year-old can vote and is seen as an adult under other laws, but when it comes to marriage, everyone is treated as a kid until they reach the age of 21[5].

What they didn’t get is that when those 18-year-olds are expected to marry at such an early age, it also leads to cases of Marital Rape and Risks in Pregnancy. The idea of being gender-neutral when it concerns the age of marriage, will not only help in bringing equality between the two genders but will also empower women, eliminate the number of child marriages.

Child Marriages and Early Pregnancies

Since the early 1900s, India has had laws barring marriage before the age of eighteen. Despite this, child marriages are still common, still so prevalent, that is disheartening. According to the National Family Health Survey, 23.3 percent of women aged 20-24 were married before they attained 18 (the legal age of marriage), 7% of women between the ages of 15 and 18 were pregnant.

Between 2015 and 2020, almost 2 million incidents of child marriage were halted. This problem is more frequent in rural India, accounting for 27% of all marriages, whereas in urban areas, it accounts for 14.7 percent of all marriages[6]. Another consequence that India as a whole nation would be able to deal with if the legal age has risen to 21 years, would be the prevention of early pregnancies. Almost every early marriage result in early pregnancy which impacts both the mothers’ and children’s nutritional levels, as well as their overall health and mental well-being.

The proposed legislation, if becomes a law, will have a serious effect, as it will lower the Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) and Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR), as well as increase the Sex Ratio at Birth (SRB), and also, improve the nutrition levels. which are all critical. Moreover, women will have more opportunities to seek higher education and careers as India develops since the early marriages were hampering the process of women empowerment as it denied them access to school and livelihood[7].

The primary motivations, as stated, for enacting the proposed legislation are, “The action is also being hailed as a step toward allowing women to reach psychological maturity prior to marriage, better exercise their reproductive rights and make decisions about family planning and contraception use.[8]” In simpler words, the Modi government has stated that it will support young women’s holistic and healthy development. It is an attempt to prevent early pregnancy and thereby protect women’s health by raising the age of marriage for women to 21[9].

Conclusion

To get to the crux, as to why it is being highly opposed is that, in India, when it comes to marriage, different religions deal with different Personal laws which are based on their own criteria, generally based on custom. Muslim groups are of the opinion that increasing the legal age to 21 will restrict women’s autonomy.

They also see this as an attempt to undermine Muslim personal law. Moreover, it is assumed by them that it would jeopardize the right to religious freedom granted by Article 25 of the Indian Constitution since this will steadily erode local personal laws, and establish a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) without really doing so[10].

The need of the hour is to understand, how essential it is to increase the legal marriage to 21 years for women, irrespective of what a certain religion has to say about it. If that’s the first step towards a Uniform Civil Code, then so be it. If the proposed legislation will help in promoting nationalism, then so be it. It will not only help in broadening the horizons for women but will also drastically reduce the number of child marriages, early pregnancies, and marital rape cases still happening.

In the end, I would just say that, if boys get to have the opportunity to prepare themselves for life and earn up to 21 years, then how can a girl be deemed fit to marry at 18, which cuts away her chance of going to the college? After all, why should boys have all the fun?


This article is written by Jayati Khatter. She is from IILM University, Gurugram. Her article is on the topic, ‘Marriage in the Modern Era’. In this article, she talks about the age gap which exists in marriages which give rise to unequal opportunities and problems such as child marriages and early pregnancies.


References

[1] Section 10, Indian Contract Act, 1872.

[2] Section 7(2), Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.

[3] Art. 15(1), The Constitution of India.

[4] Aswani, Tarushi, “India Proposes to Raise Legal Marriage Age for Women”. The Diplomat December 28, 2021.

[5] Ibid

[6] Pandit, Ambika, “Govt works to raise legal age of marriage for women to 21”. The Times of India, December 17, 2021.

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Aswani, Tarushi, “India Proposes to Raise Legal Marriage Age for Women”. The Diplomat December 28, 2021.

[10] Ibid


  1. Law Library: Notes and Study Material for LLB, LLM, Judiciary and Entrance Exams
  2. Legal Bites Academy – Ultimate Test Prep Destination
Updated On 2022-03-09T12:15:47+05:30
Jayati Khatter

Jayati Khatter

Next Story