Updated: January 6, 2022 4:08:02 am
The Odisha State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (OSCPCR) has raised concern over the proposed law to raise the marriage age for women to 21 from 18.
In a letter to Vinay P Sahasrabuddhe, chairperson of Parliamentary standing committee on education, women, children, youth and sports, OSCPCR chairman Sandhyabati Pradhan said, “If enacted, this proposed amendment will redefine the child to bring the age of marriage for both men and women at par i.e 21 for both boys and girls. This will have an overriding effect over every other law, custom, usage or practice.”
Arguing against raising the minimum age for marriage, the OSCPCR chief enlisted five main arguments.
“The change of legislation in isolation will never be able to stop child marriage, unless there is socio-behavioural change among the parents and community. Factors like distressness and poverty, patriarchal norms and practices, lack of opportunity for schooling, employment and the like are still contributing in a large extent in prevalence of child marriage. There is also a need to strengthen families by providing appropriate livelihood opportunities,” Pradhan wrote.
Pradhan emphasised that Acts like Juvenile Justice Care and Protection Act and schemes like Integrated Child Protection Scheme have scope to extend support to vulnerable children only up to the age of 18. In such circumstances, there will be no space to provide support to a child bride or groom between the age of 19 to 21 if rescued from child marriage.
“The POCSO Act has restricted consensual sex upto the age of 18. This implies that someone may have sexual act after 18 but won’t be able to marry till 21 which will create new sets of issues like increasing unwed mothers and foeticide thereafter,” Pradhan added in her letter.
The OSCPCR, a statutory body, is spearheading the movement in the state to end child marriage by 2030. According to the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS), there is a drop in underage marriages of girls in Odisha, from 21.3 per cent (pc) in the survey during 2015-16 to 20.5. Nabarangpur, however, has emerged as a cause of concern as it has registered the highest 39.4 pc of girl child marriages against the State average of 20.5 pc.
On the other hand, men aged between 25 and 29 years who were married before the legal age of 21 were 7.8 pc in urban areas and almost double at 14.8 pc in rural Odisha. Overall, men in the age group accounted for 13.3 pc between 2019 and 2021 as compared to 11 pc between 2015 and 16, a rise of 2.3 pc in underage marriages of boys.
As of today, over 5,000 villages in the state have so far been declared as child marriage free with Ganjam being declared as the only district as a child marriage free district.
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