Union Cabinet clears proposal to raise legal marriage age of women from 18 to 21 years

In his 2020 Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that his government will soon reconsider and determine the right age of marriage for women in India. 

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 Union Cabinet is learnt to have passed a proposal to raise the legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years – the same as men, reported The Indian Express.

The report quoted sources saying that following the Cabinet nod to the Bill, 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 proposals in the Bill have been made based on the recommendations submitted to Niti Aayog in December 2020 by the Centre’s task force, headed by Jaya Jaitly, which was constituted to examine “matters pertaining to age of motherhood, imperatives of lowering MMR (Maternal Mortality Rate), improvement of nutritional levels and related issues”.

“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,” Jaitly was quoted by The Indian Express as saying. 

Jaitly, who is the former president of Samata Party, said the task force’s recommendation came “after extensive consultations with experts, and more importantly with young adults, especially young women as the decision affects them directly”.

The task force, which was set up by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in June 2020, received feedback from young adults that the age of marriage for women should be 22-23 years. It also recommended that sex education be formalised and introduced in the school curriculum.

Section 5(iii) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 sets 18 years as the minimum age for the bride and 21 for the groom. The Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 also prescribe 18 and 21 years as the minimum age of consent for marriage for women and men, respectively.

In his 2020 Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that his government will soon reconsider and determine the right age of marriage for women in India. 

During her 2020-21 Budget speech, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said: “Women’s age of marriage was increased from 15 years to 18 years in 1978, by amending the erstwhile Sharda Act of 1929. As India progresses further, opportunities open up for women to pursue higher education and careers. There are imperatives of lowering MMR as well as improvement of nutrition levels. Entire issue about the age of a girl entering motherhood needs to be seen in this light.”

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