Minding The Gender Gap: Pros And Cons
Today, women stand on equal footing to men in all spheres of life. Equality
basically emanates from equal laws. Gender equality in particular refers to
human rights and not just female rights. The regressive perception of society is
that marriage provides social security to women and this perception has exposed
women to several issues. The change in fundamentals of laws would enable
progressive perception in society. Equality in marriage age may fillip women
empowerment as well.
The Union Cabinet has proposed for minding the marriage age of both the sexes
and it is certainly a progressive step. The proposed scheme basically realizes
fifth goal of SDGs. However, sometimes good intent fails to bring favorable
outcomes. The change in fundamental laws without societal support often fails to
deliver its object and aim of larger good to the community.
India being a diverse nation state is backed by both the general laws and the
personal laws. The current law for Hindus, The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 states
that the minimum age of marriage for a girl is 18 years and 21 years for a boy.
The Muslim law states that once a minor attains puberty, the marriage held
stands valid. Talking about other legislations, The Special Marriage Act, 1954
and The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 also prescribe the minimum age
as 18 years and 21 years for girls and boys respectively.
Unlike the national laws, there are certain international laws that talk about
marriage regulation. India is a party to Convention on the Elimination of all
Forms of discrimination against Women (CEDAW) since 1993 and Article 16 of the
mentioned convention talks about strict prohibition of child marriage. This
article also asks the government to identify as well as enforce the minimum age
of marriage for women.
Also, India's legislations are in consonance with international tools such as
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948. The municipal and international
laws urge for setting up the minimum age of marriage to prevent the abuse of
minor. As discussed, the age of girls is three years less to that of men and it
simply exposes them to early pregnancy, malnutrition, education related issues
and to violence as well. Early pregnancy not only causes problem to young
mothers but it's also associated with increased mortality rate.
When the marriageable age is made equal, the women will be protected against
early marriage and this monumental step will ensure them their basic rights.
Section 2(a) of the Special Marriage Act sets the minimum marriageable age as 18
years and 21 years for girls and boys respectively but there lies no justifiable
logic behind it. Hence, bringing equality in marriageable age brings gender
parity. Also, equal laws simply emanate equality and with equality progressive
societal aspects are achieved. Increase in marriage age of women would
facilitate empowerment. Schemes like UJJAWALA, Mudra Yojna and Pradhan Mantri
Jan Dhan Yojna have shown that women are the largest section of beneficiaries.
Though the objective may look good but increasing the age without social
awareness and also legislation with no majority consent will not benefit the
community that was actually to be served. The scheme also rejects the argument
that we lack in access to good health care. Women who are not financially
independent are still under the yoke of families and societal pressure.
The laws relating to prohibition of child marriage are in effect since 1900s,
still child marriage persists. As per data, one in every five marriages was
child marriage, yet no criminal records for child marriage were made. We have
failed to eliminate marriages of women below 18 years, so no evidence lies in
the fact that it would be eliminated by increasing the age to 21 years. Also, we
have patriarchal society where the change in minimum marriageable age of women
will increase parents authority over young adult women.
In concluding remark, it can be stated that justifications pertaining to
biology, society or data cannot justify the inequality that exists between ages
of men and women. Government must ensure good investment on disadvantaged class
and this would enable them basic human rights as well. The safety issues need to
be addressed at large. Equality could also be ensured by bringing change in
behavior of parents.
The focus must be on creating social awareness and equality in respect of
education, job, rights and change in patriarchal society need to be focused upon
prima facie. Such equality will for sure fillip empowerment rather than just
increasing marriageable age of women. It's high time that India should be among
that one nation state where women live with their head held high.
Written By: Akriti Sinha, Central University of South Bihar, Gaya
Law Article in India
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