Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment), Bill, 2021

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    In News

    • Recently, Rajya Sabha Chairman granted a three-month extension to the Standing Committee examining the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment), Bill, 2021.

    About:

    • Intent: 
      • The Bill aims to raise the legal age of marriage of women in the country to 21 years from the present 18 years.
      • The law prescribes a minimum age of marriage to essentially outlaw child marriages and prevent the abuse of minors. 
    • Extent:
      • Personal laws of various religions that deal with marriage have their own standards, often reflecting custom.
      • The amendment in the Prohibition of Child Marriages Act, 2006, is proposed to extend to all communities, irrespective of religion.

    Key Provisions of the Bill

    • Introduction:
      • The Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was introduced in Lok Sabha in 2021. 
      • The Bill amends the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 to increase the minimum age of marriage of females.
    • Increasing the minimum age of marriage of females: 
      • The Act provides that the minimum age of marriage is 21 years in case of males, and 18 years in case of females. 
      • The Bill increases the minimum age in case of females to 21 years. 
      • The Bill also amends certain other laws relating to marriage to increase the minimum age of marriage of females under those laws to 21 years. These are: 
        • Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872,
        • Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936, 
        • Special Marriage Act, 1954, 
        • Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, and 
        • Foreign Marriage Act, 1969.
    • Time period for filing petition to annul child marriage: 
      • Under the Act, a child marriage is one where either of the parties to the marriage is a child (i.e., their age is less than the minimum age of marriage). 
      • The Act provides that a child marriage may be annulled by the party who was a child at the time of marriage. 
      • Such parties may file a petition in a district court for a decree of nullity.
      • The petition should be filed before such party completes two years of attaining majority (i.e., completes 20 years of age). 
        • The Bill amends this to allow such party to file the petition before completing five years of attaining majority (i.e., completes 23 years of age).
    • Implementation: 
      • Amendments relating to the increase of minimum age of marriage of females and time period for filing petition to annul child marriage shall come into force two years from the date of assent.
    • Overriding effect: 
      • The Bill adds that the provisions of the Act shall have an overriding effect over any other law, custom, usage or practice governing the parties to the marriage. 

    Reasons why marriage age should be increased?

    • Marriage and voting are not same: 
      • Equating age for marriage with the age to vote or sign other agreements does not fit in here because marriage is considered a life-long settlement in our society for which both the boy and the girl have to be mature in mind and body. 
    • Time for building career:
      • When girls wish to go in for higher studies or research or eye a career in civil services or   sports, they do require time to prepare. 
      • Marriage comes in the way in such cases whereas raising the age limit will allow them this valuable space to rise in life. 
    • Stops malpractices:
      • It will help in putting a stop to malpractices like child marriage which still exists in some areas in the country. 
    • Applicable to all communities
      • Even though terming the below 21-year person a child will raise hackles of the committee members, the bill fulfils the spirit of the Constitution as its provisions shall apply to all communities “irrespective of any law, custom, usage or practice governing the parties” as the bill mentions it. 

    Result of previous amendment

    • The age of marriage was increased from 16 to 18 in 1978.
    • The objective was to provide better opportunities for women’s education and improve their health. 
    • Results:
      • The latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS 5 2019–’21) has brought out the dismal fact that 40 years later, we still have an alarming rate of child marriages at 23%
    • Conclusion:
      • This points to the failure on the part of the government to reach its target of providing opportunities for girls in backward and poverty-stricken areas or better access to healthcare. 
      • It has also not changed conservative and anti-women attitudes towards women. 

    Challenges

    • Not a big deterrent: 
      • Even with the legal age of marriage for women being 18 years, child marriages continue in India and a decrease in such marriages has been not because of the existing law, but increase in girls’ education and employment opportunities.
    • Major effect on marginalised sections:
      • The law would end up being coercive, and particularly impact marginalised communities such as the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
    • Curtailed freedom:
      • The concern is over the infringement of the rights of the minorities in deciding their own code for marriages within their communities.
    • Illegal marriages:
      • Such legislation would push a large portion of the population into illegal marriages.
    • Not the root cause:
      • Increasing the age of marriage will either harm or have no impact by itself unless the root causes of women’s disempowerment are addressed.
      • This law will unfold within a society that is deeply entrenched in patriarchy and that it will be used primarily by parents to control the autonomy of young girls and to penalise them for their sexual choices, with the active collusion of state functionaries such as the police and welfare officers.
    • Age security and matrimonial problems:
      • If a girl married at 18 or 19 faces matrimonial problems, and approaches the court for redress, her husband may plead that the marriage is not valid, and she is devoid of rights. This is a cause of grave concern. 

     

    Way Ahead

    • It is necessary to have a clear direction within the statute that a woman in an under-age marriage will not lose her matrimonial rights or rights of inheritance, in the event she becomes a widow.
    • Implement quickly the increase in access to schools and colleges for girls, including their transportation to these institutes from far-flung areas, skill and business training and sex education in schools.
    • The need of the hour is focussed programmes and necessary budgetary allocations to ensure that every child receives basic education. Only when a girl is in school, will under-age marriages reduce.

    Source: IE