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Exclusive | Raising Marriage Age of Women to 21 to Enable Them to Make Decisions, Be Self-Reliant: Bill

The move to raise the minimum marriage of women to 21 is aimed towards the empowerment of women, gender equality, increasing the female labour force participation, making them self-reliant and “to enable them to take decisions themselves”, the government has said in the ‘Statement of Objects and Reasons’ of the bill introduced in Parliament.

Union women and child development minister Smriti Irani introduced the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday and agreed to send it to a standing committee amidst vociferous protest from the opposition saying the bill needed more scrutiny. Irani said the bill would make the minimum marriage age for women common across religions, castes and creeds. In Prayagraj, Prime Minister Narendra Modi invoked the bill to say everyone knows why the opposition was blocking the big move and how it stands for women’s empowerment.

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News18 has accessed the content of the bill, which has statements on the objects and reasons behind the legislation. “The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, was replaced by the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, to prohibit solemnisation of child marriages, but this highly pernicious practice is still not completely eradicated from our society. Hence, there is an urgent need to tackle this societal issue and to bring in reforms. We cannot claim progress unless women progress on all fronts including their physical, mental and reproductive health,” it says.

The bill says the amendments in relation to marriageable age will be made effective only two years from the date the legislation receives the assent of the President, “so as to provide sufficient opportunity to one and all in our collective efforts.” It adds that various other enactments relating to age of marriage of parties, such as Christian, Muslim and Parsi laws, “do not provide for uniform minimum age of marriage for men and women.”

The bill says the Constitution guarantees gender equality as part of the fundamental rights and also guarantees prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of sex. “The existing laws do not adequately secure the Constitutional mandate of gender equality in marriageable age among men and women. Women are often put to disadvantageous position in regard to higher education, vocational instruction, attainment of psychological maturity and skill-sets. Entering into employment sphere and being part of the work force to make themselves self- dependent before girls getting married is a critical area. These disadvantages perpetuate dependence of women on men,” the bill says.

The statement of the bill says that there are also imperatives for lowering maternal mortality rate and infant mortality rate, as well as improvement of nutrition levels and sex ratio at birth, “as these would promote possibilities of responsible parenthood for both father and mother, making them more capable of taking better care of their children.” The bill further says that it is also important to bring down the incidence of teenage pregnancies, “which are not only harmful for women’s overall health but also result in more miscarriages and stillbirths.”

The bill says discrimination against women also comes in the way of achieving sustainable development goals, “and goes against the principles enunciated under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, to which India is a signatory”. It says it is imperative to tackle gender inequality and gender discrimination and to put in place adequate measures to secure health, welfare and empowerment of women and girls and to ensure status and opportunity for them at par with men.

ALSO READ | EXPLAINED: Why Centre Is Pushing For 21 Yrs As Minimum Age Of Marriage For Women

“In order to address the issues of women in a holistic manner, as a measure for empowerment of women, gender equality, increasing the female labour force participation, make them self-reliant and to enable them to take decisions themselves, the Bill, inter alia, proposes to amend the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, to reinforce its application overriding all other existing laws, including any custom, usage or practice governing the parties in relation to marriage,” the bill mentions.

It says the bill will bring women at par with men in terms of marriageable age, prohibit child marriage irrespective of any law, custom, usage, or practice governing the parties, and make consequential amendments to the other laws relating to marriage.

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