The Union government cabinet clears a proposal to raise the marriage age of women from 18 to 21

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The union cabinet today cleared a proposal to increase the legal minimum age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years bringing it similar to that of men. It has been learnt that after the Cabinet’s approval, the government will introduce an amendment to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, and therefore bring amendments to the Special Marriage Act and personal laws such as the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. The clearance of the bill today is based on 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”. The committee was to look at the feasibility of increasing the age of marriage and its implication on women and child health, as well as how to increase access to education for women. The committee was to also recommend a timeline by which the government could roll out the implementation of the policy, as well as the amendments that would need to be made in existing laws in order for this to happen. The committee has further recommended that sex education be formalised and introduced in the school curriculum. Training of women in polytechnic institutes, skills and business training and livelihood enhancement has also been recommended as means to ensure that an increase in marriageable age can be implemented. Prime Minister Modi, during his Independence Day speech last year, had made a mention of the proposal. "This government is constantly concerned about the health of daughters and sisters. To save the daughters from malnutrition, it is necessary that they're married at the right age," the Prime Minister had said. 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. Referring to the setting up of the task force during her Budget Speech for 2020-21, Union 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.” The Central Government's plan is to introduce the amendment Bill for raising the marriage age during this Parliament session itself. The Parliament session will last up to December 23. As per the plan, the relevant provisions of the Child Marriage Restraint Act will be amended. There are also plans to revise certain provisions of the personal laws of various religions.