To raise or not to raise the legal age for marriage of girls?
news Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - 05:30
Monalisa Das | The News Minute | October 10, 2014 | 07:21 pm IST The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court recently mooted the idea of raising the legal age of marriage for women in India from 18 to 21, the age limit now set for men. A PTI report quotes a division bench of justices S Manikumar and V S Ravi as saying, â€śFor a male, the marriage age is fixed as 21 years. For a girl it is 18 years. But both boys and girls grow in school atmosphere till the age of 17. How can girls be considered more matured at 18 than boys?â€ť The suggestions to amend the Indian Majority Act 1875 and the Child Marriage Restraint Act was made after observing the increasing number of women getting married at an early age and getting separated a few years down the line. The changes, according to the court, could perhaps be a step in controlling and even preventing such situations. Sudha Ramalingam, a senior advocate in Chennai, shared her views with TNM on why amendments to the law are not necessary and though liberal in thought, the suggestion does not represent the masses.Â â€śPersonally, I feel women should only marry after completing their education. They should be independent and well equipped to face the world before tying the knotâ€ť, she says. However, she maintained that this is not the norm in India where not all women marry only after getting a degree and a job. A large population lives in rural areas where girls are married off early, due to various factors including tradition and the fact that daughters are often viewed as â€śothersâ€™ propertyâ€ť.Â She points out that those living in urban areas are likely to be more educated than their rural counterparts and can also afford to be liberal about taking decisions about getting married whenever theyâ€™d like to. But do the rest have that luxury, she asks. â€śToday girls are attaining puberty at a much earlier age. In many parts of the country, parents openly celebrate their daughterâ€™s puberty. In a way, they are sending a signal to families of prospective grooms that the girl has reached a certain age and will be ready for marriage in the coming years. There are certain biological and physiological aspects to this as well which needs to be kept in mindâ€ť, she adds. Ms Ramalingam, though feels that both men and women should only marry when they are really ready for it, she says that such a situation cannot be generalized in India, where marriages are often decided by the family first and becomes an individual choice only after that. â€śWe still have more arranged marriages as compared to love marriages. The way our society functions, in a match the girl should be the one younger, shorter, fairer, and less educated than her spouse. We live in a system that practices inequality. Increasing the age limit is hardly going to have any effect on thatâ€ť, she asserts. She also mentions Kasturba Gandhi, wife of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, saying she was older than her husband, stressing that exceptions do exist, but that it cannot be laid down as the common rule.Â The Madras HC also pointed out that they were registering a large number of habeas corpus petitions regarding girls, on turning 18, eloping with boys. Ms Ramalingam counters this, by asking some hard-hitting but pertinent questions. â€śDowry is a punishable offence in India. Has that stopped the practice? Child marriage is prohibited in India. Has it really solved the issues of minor girls being married off across the country? If the legal age for girls is changed do you think they will stop running away?â€ť â€śChanging the law for every issue is not a solution. If anything, such changes without proper thought and discussions could bear negative effects too. For instance, if the age for marriage is increased to 21 now, an 18-year-old pregnant girl may approach a quack instead of a doctor in fear of legal consequences,â€ť Ms Ramalingam explains. The issue of marriage is an emotional one, but we only choose to see it as a rational one. We are losing the social perspective by opting for a liberated and intellectual point of view, Ms Ramalingam feels. â€śWe need to decide whether we want a law for the exceptions or for the massesâ€ť. Such laws cannot be imposed on people. Besides, these are time tested laws, she adds. While making suggestions, the HC mentioned that â€śchildren were not mentally and psychologically mature (when) they decide their course of action, and get married because of infatuation.â€ť The bench also mentioned, â€śThe girl may be fit to drive scooter, get employment at 18, but all that could not be equated with mental maturity for marriageâ€ť. But Ms Ramalingam disagrees. â€śIt is my apprehension that children today are attaining maturity, both mental and physical, at a much earlier age and at a faster rate than they did a decade ago. An eight-year-old today knows very well how to use Google. They have knowledge and information ready on the tip of their fingers.â€ť Both men and women, when they turn 18 legally gain the status of an adult. Then as adults, why canâ€™t they take decisions about their lives? Laws are meant to guide us. They are not meant to control every aspect of our lives, she says. There are always many sides to every argument. A proper conclusion in this one can only be reached by keeping in all facts and aspects of the issue in mind.