Raising legal marriage age for women

28 Dec 2021  Read 8403 Views

An Indian wedding is gradually becoming a way for people to show off their social status, all ‘courtesy to Bollywood’. As shocking as it might sound, but Indian parents usually spend more on lavish weddings and dowry than on education, especially in case of daughters, who are married at an early age sacrificing their education due to societal and peer pressure. But don’t you agree that even a thought like this must be considered as “ridiculous as drinking poison to satiate one’s thirst?” 

It’s the 21st century, and still a social evil “child marriage” is prevalent in most of the parts of India. Now, here comes another shocker, do you know that during the lockdown in 2020, a child helpline supported by the Ministry of Women and Child Development prevented 5,200 child marriages. However, this year, the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021 had been introduced and passed in Lok Sabha by the union minister for Women and Child Development, Smriti Irani that seeks to raise the age of legal marriage for women from 18 to 21 after amending the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. Read this article to know the pros and cons of increasing the marriage age for women!

Features of the Bill

The bill will apply to all the communities in our country and, once enacted, will surely supersede existing marriage laws and personal laws. As stated by the union minister for Women and Child Development, that the proposed legislation was secular. “All women from all faiths, under Hindu Marriage Act or the Muslim Personal Law, should get equal rights to marry,” she said. Later, this bill was sent to a Parliamentary Standing Committee for further discussion.

Based on the report submitted to the PMO in July 2021 by a 4- member committee (task force) headed by politician Jaya Jaitley, this bill presently had been referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee for evaluation, the other members in the panel included V K Paul, member (health) NITI Aayog, secretaries of higher education, school education, health, women and child development, legislative department apart from academics Najma Akhtar, Vasudha Kamat, and Dipti Shah.

It is a well-known law that child marriage in India is prohibited but it is an entirely separate and distinct issue. It specifically deals with minor boys and girls whereas a demand for an increase in the legal age to marry for girls is an entirely different issue. So, the opposition in general parlance, cannot possibly amalgamate both these issues into one. This trending controversial issue on increasing the legal age to marry for women is restricted to women in the age bracket of 18- 21 years and not below.

What is the amendment to marriage age?

  • The Bill states that “in sub-section (2) of section 1 of the 2006 Act, after the words “citizens of India without and beyond India”, these words, “notwithstanding anything contrary or inconsistent therewith contained in the Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872; the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936; the Shariat Application Act, 1937; the Special Marriage Act, 1954; the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955; and the Foreign Marriage Act, 1969, or any other custom or usage or practice in relation to marriage, under any other law for the time being in force” shall be inserted.

  • This bill proposes to define a child as “a male or a female who has not completed twenty-one years of age”. This definition will be in respect to child marriages only as the definition of child varies in most of the Acts. 

  • The Statement of Objects and Reasons in the Bill states that in order to address the issues of women in a holistic manner and ensure women empowerment, gender equality, increasing the female labour force participation, make them self-reliant, and enable them to make decisions themselves.

Pros and Cons

Pros of increasing legal age

  • The law will boost women empowerment, encourage girls to take up higher education and work to achieve financial independence.

  • Women will be able to enter the workforce and contribute to the economy. 

  • The improvement of maternal nutrition and mortality rate will be deliberated in this legislation.

  • Proper examination of correlation of marriage age, motherhood with health, medical well-being, and nutrition of mother and child during pregnancy and a later assessment of infant mortality rate, maternal mortality rate, child sex ratio, etc.

  • This bill will bring women at par with men in terms of marriageable age and prohibit child marriage irrespective of any law, custom, usage, or practice governing the parties.

Cons of increasing marriage age

  • Experts have been opposing a raised age of marriage as even the law to prevent child marriages does not work. The law prohibiting marriage below the age of 18 has been in effect in some form since the 1900s, yet child marriage has continued until 2005 

  • Almost half of all women aged 20-24 had married below the legal minimum age. By 2015-16, this proportion declined significantly to 27% in 2015-16 to 23% in 2019-20.

  • Women will certainly be denied their reproductive rights as romantic relations are increasingly taking place in adolescence worldwide and few women will certainly make an informed decision to marry before 21 years of age.

  • India is a signatory to the resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989 which recommended 18 years as the minimum age.

  • Marrying them off at the age of 18 is usually seen as a solution to deal with poverty, escalating dowry demands, and the haunting fear of sexual assault of their daughters. Therefore, sudden change in the marriage age would result in chaos especially amongst the poor section of society.


The amendment so made which awaits the President’s assent will declare that provisions of this amending Act shall have overridden effect over every other law, custom, usage, or practice governing the parties. Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated after The Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill was introduced that

"We are doing this so that daughters can have time to study and progress. The country is taking this decision for its daughters." This proposed law would mark a drastic change for women in a country where, as per several estimates, about 50% marry before turning 21.

About the Author: Kakoli Nath | 275 Post(s)

Kakoli Nath is a legal Content Manager at Finology Legal who pursued BBA.LL.B (5 years integrated course). She is a patent analyst & had also done advanced certification in Forensics Psychology and Criminal Profiling from IFS, Pune.

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