Increasing the age-threshold for marriage for women would be a great step forward.
Claiming that the present law “perpetrates de jure and de facto inequality against women” and violates gender equality, justice and dignity of women, a petition was filed last week with the Delhi High Court to equalise the marriageable age for men and women. Currently, women are allowed to marry at 18 years of age, while men are allowed to do so at 21. The PIL invokes Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution and states that not only that this has no scientific backing and goes against global trends but also furthers patriarchal stereotypes. Raising the minimum age for marriage for women to 21 years will be a step forward.
Historically, the mean age at which Indian women get married has been quite low. The India Human Development Survey, 2004-05 found that more than 95% of Indian women are married by the age of 25. There has been steady rise in the age at which Indian women are getting married. From 16.1 in 1961, the mean age of marriage for women rose to 19.3 in 1991. In 1998-99, this reached 19.7. Although the mean differs for rural and urban women in favour of the latter, there is a trend of increase for both demographies. Since opposition from in-laws could impede the pursuit of education for women marrying young, a higher marriageable age would imply increased likelihood of accessing educational opportunities.
In turn, this would give women increased access to economic independence, greater freedom of marital choices, and, given the positive correlation between educational qualification and lower fertility rates, more reproductive freedom. Further, the access to education resulting from a higher threshold age would be a boon for both maternal and child nutritional health.