India: government wants to raise the minimum age of marriage for women to 21
The cabinet has approved a bill that now goes before parliament. Currently the limit is 18, but in rural areas it is largely ignored. Tensions with Muslim groups that consider the bill an arbitrary interference.
New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Modi government approved a bill on Wednesday that would raise the legal age of marriage for women to 21 years, bringing it on par with that of men. The old law, amended in 1978, set the marriage age of women at 18.
The bill, which now goes before the Parliament of India during its winter session, is another step in the fight against child marriages, which remains a widespread practice, especially in rural areas, despite the law.
According to an official survey conducted in 2019, 23.3 per cent of Indian women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before turning 18.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the new legislation in his Independence Day speech last year. However, the proposed legislative changes reflect changes in Indian society.
“If we talk about gender equity and gender empowerment in every field, then we can't leave marriage out,” said Jaya Jaitly, the former Samata Party chief who led the four-member task force charged with making recommendations in the matter.
The “very odd message that [the] girl can be fit to be married at 18 [. . .] cuts away her opportunity to go to college” while “the man has the opportunity to prepare himself for life and earning up to 21.”
The government’s bill is already a major topic of discussion in Indian society since it would take precedence over local laws that recognise the prerogatives of individual religious communities in relation to marriage.
India’s Muslims have in fact already expressed their opposition to raising the legal age to 21 years.
Indian Union Muslim League leader E T Mohammad Basheer has already presented a motion in parliament today opposing the government's decision saying that it is contrary to Muslim personal law and is a step towards a uniform civil code in the country.
“We will oppose this. The government is trying to implement the Sangh Parivar[*]’s favourite agenda of uniform civil code. The Muslim Personal Law Board clearly defines marriage, divorce and right to property. These issues relate to our faith,” Basheer said.
[*] Sangh Parivar is a collective term that refers to a number of organisations that share the same Hindu nationalist ideology, Hindutva.