News Excerpt
The Prime Minister has announced that the Centre will decide on the recommendations of a committee set up to reconsider the minimum age of marriage for women.

•    Indian Penal Code, while enacted in 1860 criminalised sexual intercourse with a girl below the age of 10.
•    The provision of rape was amended in 1927 through The Age of Consent Bill, 1927, which declared that marriage with a girl under 12 would be invalid.
•    A legal framework for 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 Sarda Act, popularly known after its sponsor Harbilas Sarda, a judge and a member of Arya Samaj, was amended in 1978 to prescribe 18 and 21 years as the age of marriage for a woman and a man respectively.
•    Union Ministry for Women and Child Development set up a task force to examine the age of motherhood, imperatives of lowering Maternal Mortality Ratio and the improvement of nutritional levels among women.
•    The task force will examine the correlation of age of marriage and motherhood with health, medical well-being, and nutritional status of the mother and neonate, infant or child, during pregnancy, birth and thereafter.

The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
•    The persons getting married must be unmarried and must not have a living spouse from their previous marriage.
•    The legal age for a woman is 18 years and for a man is 21 years.
•    The sanity of mind is necessary for both the parties and they must be capable to give their consent to the marriage freely.
•    The persons getting married must be mentally fit for the marriage i.e. they must not be suffering from any mental illness.

The Special Marriage Act, 1954
•    The provisions of the act are applicable to all the citizens of India irrespective of their religion, caste or culture.
•    Under provisions of the Act, people from different religion, caste or community are allowed to get married, provided certain conditions must be met.
•    Marriage registration in India is compulsory to solemnize a marriage under this Act.
•    The age of both bride and groom must be 18 and 21 years respectively.
•    Both of them must be of sound mind.
•    Both the bride and groom cannot share common ancestors or be blood relatives.
•    Total 37 relations are forbidden under the act in which no wedding can be performed.

Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872
•    The solemnization of the wedding takes place in the presence of priests, clergymen or ministers in a church and as per the regulations of the Indian Christians community.
•    The age of bridegroom and bride should be 21 years and 18 years respectively.
•    Both bride and groom must give their consent voluntarily and under no compulsion.
•    Both the parties should not have an existing partner from any former marriage.

Why minimum age for marriage?
    The law prescribes a minimum age of marriage to essentially outlaw child marriages and prevent the abuse of minors.
    Personal laws of various religions that deal with marriage have their own standards, often reflecting custom.
    However, child marriages are not illegal — even though they can be declared void at the request of the minor in the marriage.
    In Islam, the marriage of a minor who has attained puberty is considered valid.
    Additionally, sexual intercourse with a minor is rape, and the ‘consent’ of a minor is regarded as invalid since she is deemed incapable of giving consent at that age.

How prevalent is underage marriage?
    Majority of women in India marry after the age of 21.
    The latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) found that about 26.8% of women aged 20-24 were married before becoming legally adult.

How does the age of marriage correlate with health?
     Preventing early marriage can reduce the Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) and Infant Mortality Ratio (IMR).
o    MMR — the number of maternal deaths for every 100,000 children born — has declined to 113 in 2016-18 from 122 in 2015-17 and 130 in 2014-2016.
o    India’s IMR shows that 32 of every 1,000 (in 2018) children born in a year die before the age of one.
o    Both, MMR and IMR in India are the highest among the BRICS economies.
     Young mothers are more susceptible to anaemia.
o    More than half the women of reproductive age (15-49 years) in India are anaemic. The prevalence of anaemia among women has consistently been high over the last 20 years.
     The 2015-16 NFHS report shows that trends in education and employment are influenced by cultural norms around marriage.

We need to do for women is to make sure that they get adequate nutrition and proper education. We need to make sure they get through the 12 years of schooling; and we need to make sure that marriage is not made the only important thing in a woman’s life. This involve much more work on the part of the society not the government.