Implementation of a higher marriageable age of women in India, and its implication on society – A study.

Higher legal marriage age of women How will it help them

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his Independence Day speech, alluded to the suggestion of the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman regarding raising the minimum legal age for marriage for girls from 18 to 21. 

Makes sense? The answer is yes, if research by the State Bank of India and comparisons with other Asian countries like Japan, Singapore, and China are anything to go by.

Having an egalitarian society where equal opportunities are provided to women and men necessitate that we set the marriageable age of women and men at 21. The belief that ‘girls mature earlier than boys and can therefore marry at 18’ is being overturned all around the world.

In 2015-16, India had 63% of women marrying before the age of 21. Let’s see what advantages can accrue to our society if India increases the age of marriage for women.

The advantages

  • Women will get a chance to study more and the number of graduates would be 17% or more from the current 9.8%.
  • It would raise the quality of thought in society as women’s voices would be taken more seriously.
  • It would lower the maternal mortality ratio (women dying during childbirth). Many girls below 18 succumb to such complications.
  • It would eradicate dowry as graduating or skilled women would earn their own livelihood.
  • Having more working women would ameliorate poverty levels and help in raising social consciousness in all aspects. 

What India needs to do

It is obvious that the societal benefits are immense. But for that to fructify, we must tread a focused path that involves the following:

  • Educate Indian families to not consider the girl child as a burden but as equal to boys.
  • Include more educational institutions and basic hygiene facilities for women to venture out and acquire the skills to deal with the world.
  • Include more professions in the female domain as in western countries – such as armed forces, sports etc. where male domination is entrenched.
  • Sensitise societal support systems: increase quality in nutrition levels, police, hospitals, and educational institutes, and create awareness about women and their needs.
  • Provide free state-sponsored basic hygiene facilities for all women.
  • Encourage women to participate in the economy by offering all avenues and provide them with financial support to become entrepreneurs.
  • Eradication of poverty is a must as most girls (45%) from poorer backgrounds tend to marry before the age of 21, while studies point to only one in 10 women (10%) from affluent backgrounds marry early.

Impact of poverty on the age of marriage

The government is aware of the benefits to society if women are empowered, but it has also noticed that poverty is the prime reason. A major decline in child marriages has happened only recently, even though the law against child marriage has existed for 90 years. The percentage of girls below 18 who get married is around 27% as per a 2017 report by UNICEF.

The government must eradicate poverty and provide high-quality education to discourage child marriages or early marriages. The issues related to mindset, violence against women, and women empowerment also have a role to play.