The central government will reconsider the minimum age of marriage for women, which is currently 18, according to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“We have set up a committee to reconsider the minimum age of marriage for girls. The Centre will take a decision after the committee submits its report,” Modi said during his Independence Day address from Red Fort.
On June 2, the Union Ministry for Women and Child Development set up a task force to examine the possibility of increasing the age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 as a measure to lower Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) and improve nutritional levels, apart from other initiatives.
Stressing that the government is “working relentlessly” for the improved health of women, the Prime Minister said sanitary pads as inexpensive as Re 1 per pad had been developed and given to 5 crore women across the country.
While India’s MMR has seen a decline from 130 per 1 lakh live births in 2014-2016 to 122 per 1 lakh live births in 2015-2017 — a decline of 8 points (6.2%) — the government is now pushing to bring down this rate further.
The minimum age of marriage for men and women was initially introduced to combat child marriages.
Section 5(iii) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 sets 18 years as the minimum age for the bride and 21 for the groom. Child marriages can be declared void at the request of the minor. In Islam, the marriage of a minor, who has attained puberty, is considered valid. 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.
A legal framework on the age of consent for marriage in India only began in the 1880s.
In 1929, the Child Marriage Restraint Act set 16 and 18 years as the minimum age of marriage for girls and boys, respectively. The law, popularly known as Sarda Act after its sponsor Harbilas Sarda, a judge and a member of Arya Samaj, was eventually amended in 1978 to prescribe 18 and 21 years for women and men, respectively.
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