Staying true to one more of its promises, the cabinet has cleared the proposal for increasing the marriageable age of women from 18 to 21 years.
In 2020, the Prime Minister had announced the move during his independence day address. According to The Indian Express, following the Cabinet’s approval, the government will introduce an amendment to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, and consequently bring amendments to the Special Marriage Act and personal laws such as the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
The clearance came on the basis of a report submitted by Jaya Jaitly, Head of Centre’s task force, to Niti Aayog in December 2020.
The task force was constituted in June 2020 to study “matters pertaining to the age of motherhood, imperatives of lowering MMR (Maternal Mortality Rate), improvement of nutritional levels and related issues,” as reported.
It included Niti Aayog’s V K Paul and secretaries from the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Health and Family Welfare, and Education.
In an interview, Jaitly said, “I want to make clear that our reasoning behind the recommendation was never one of population control. Recent data released by NFHS 5 (National Family Health Survey) have already shown that the Total Fertility Rate is decreasing and the population is under control. The idea behind it (the recommendation) is the empowerment of women.”
She added that the recommendations have come after extensive consultations from experts and from young adults, especially women as they are the direct stakeholders in the matter.
Jaitly further explained the target group for the study which included 16 universities and marginalised communities.
It included around 15 NGOs and focused on groups where child marriage is more prevalent. “We have had feedback from 16 universities and engaged over 15 NGOs to reach out to young people, particularly in rural and marginalised communities, such as in particular districts in Rajasthan where child marriage is quite prevalent. Feedback was taken across religions, and from urban and rural areas, equally,” she said.
Currently, the Hindu Marriage Act, Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, and the Special Marriage Act set the minimum age of marriage as 21 and 18 years for women and men respectively.