The Parliamentary panel assigned to examine the landmark Bill which seeks to raise the legal age of marriage for women to 21 has only one woman Member of Parliament (MP) out of 31 members. The Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, which is expected to have a wide influence, was introduced in Lok Sabha during the winter session and referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth and Sports.
The Bill, piloted by the Women and Child Development Ministry, seeks to increase the legal age of marriage from 18 to 21. According to the members' list of the Parliamentary standing committee, led by senior BJP leader Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, available on the Rajya Sabha website, TMC MP Sushmita Dev is the only woman among the 31 members.
When asked about it, Dev said it would have been better if there were more women MPs in the panel. "I wish there were more women MPs in the committee but having said that we will make sure all interest groups are heard," Dev told PTI. Echoing similar sentiments, NCP MP Supriya Sule, who has been raising women-centric issues in parliament, said there should have been more women MPs in the panel which will deliberate on issues related to women. However, she added that the chairman has the power to invite people before the panel. So for more inclusive and wider discussions, he can invite other women MPs.
The legal age of marriage for women is being raised by the Union government on the recommendations of the Jaya Jaitly Committee that was constituted by the WCD Ministry in June 2020.
When contacted, Jaitly said it wouldn't be fair if 50% of the committee members examining this proposed legislation are not women. "I would request all political parties, especially those which have been supportive of women reservation to replace their MPs on the panel with female MPs if the system permits or suggest their MPs to consult female MPs while deliberating on this important legislation," Jaitly told PTI.
The Department-Related Standing Committees are permanent, while joint and select committees are constituted from time to time to deal with Bills and relevant subjects of various ministries. These panels are constituted by both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth and Sports is a Rajya Sabha administered Committee. Parties nominate members based on their strength in the House.
The proposed law will apply to all communities in the country and, once enacted, will supersede existing marriage and personal laws.
The introduction of the Bill was opposed by some members who contended that the move infringed upon several personal laws in violation of fundamental rights and demanded that it be referred to a parliamentary panel for greater scrutiny.
The Bill seeks to increase the legal age for women to marry to 21 years, as is the provision for men. It seeks to amend seven personal laws - the Indian Christian Marriage Act; the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act; the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act; the Special Marriage Act; the Hindu Marriage Act; and the Foreign Marriage Act.