Government thinking about revision of legal age of women for marriage from 18 to 21

The legal age of marriage for women in India is likely to be revised from 18-years of age to 21-years of age as the government has formed a high-level committee to go into the matter and submit recommendations by July 31. Earlier, it was increased from 15 to 18 in 1978 as an amendment to the Sharda Act of 1929. Since 1978, the minimum legal age for marriage has been 18 for women and 21 for men.

However, in a progressive decision of the centre, a task force has been set up, which will re-examine the matters related to motherhood and marriage at an early age. This includes the mortality rates and medical well-being of the mother and child. The task force will be headed by former Samata Party president Jaya Jaitly and will have among members V K Paul, Member, Health, NITI Ayog.

The ten-member task force will have as members Secretaries Health, Women and Child Development, Law and School Education. Three independent members are Najma Akhtar (New Delhi); Vasudha Kamath (Maharashtra); and Dipti Shah (Gujarat).

“Centre sets up a task force to examine the age of motherhood, imperatives of lowering maternal mortality rate, improvement of nutritional levels and related issues,” Ministry of Women and Child Development.

Following which, the Women and Child Development Ministry (WCD) announced that this body has now been set up, signalling a possibility of the legal age of marriage for women to be raised from 18 to 21.

In February, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had, during the Budget Speech 2020-2021 had announced that this decision is important and will be looked into again in the span of the next six months. 

Sitharaman had said,” Women’s age of marriage was increased from 15 years to 18 years in 1978 by amending 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 (maternal mortality rate) as well as improvement of nutrition levels. The entire issue about the age of a girl entering motherhood needs to be seen in this light. I propose to appoint a task force that will present its recommendations in six months’ time.”

As per UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) study, around 27% of the women in India are married before turning 18th birthday. This judgement, if passed, it is hoped setting a higher age of marriage for women to 21 will bring strict laws, which will prevent children from being married off too young. 

Legal Age For Marriage in India

The minimum legal age for marriage, since 1978, has been 18 for women and 21 for men. The child marriage prevention laws have been challenged in Indian courts,] with some Muslim Indian organizations seeking no minimum age and that the age matter be left to their personal law.

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