Cabinet Clears Proposal To Raise Legal Age Of Marriage For Women To 21

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The Union Cabinet has cleared a push to raise the legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21. According to reports, the central government will now look at introducing an amendment to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. Once that is passed they will bring amendments to the Special Marriage Act and personal laws such as the Hindu Marriage Act and so on. Both the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and the Special Marriage act set the minimum age of marriage for women at 18.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had first announced the plan to raise the minimum age of marriage during his independence day address to the nation in 202o. Since 1978, the minimum legal age for marriage has been 18 for women and 21 for men. The main reason for reconsidering this is the maternal mortality rate and health of young mothers in India. In February, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced during the budget session that this decision is important and will be looked into again in the span of the next six months.

The clearance by the union cabinet has come after recommendations from the Niti Aayog. The Centre’s task force, headed by Jaya Jaitly, examined “matters pertaining to age of motherhood, imperatives of lowering MMR (Maternal Mortality Rate), improvement of nutritional levels and related issues”.

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The task force looked into ways to encourage higher education among women, explore the impact of marital age on infant mortality rate, maternal mortality rate, the mental health of the mother, nutritional status of both the mother and child, sex ratio at birth and child sex ratio. Jaitley said that the task force has come to its recommendation “after extensive consultations with experts, and more importantly, with young adults, especially young women as the decision affects them directly”.

The task force gathered feedback from 16 universities and engaged over 15 NGOs to reach out to young people, in rural and marginalised communities, across religions, and from urban and rural areas. It has also collected data from Rajasthan where child marriage is quite prevalent.