In most cases, child marriage is pushed even by consenting parents to keep family honour and ensure that the children do not marry outside their caste and religion. Often people presume women's honour can be protected only if one is married and later becomes a mother.
New Delhi: The Modi government's decision to raise the marriageable age of women to 21 years from 18 has been backed by quite an unexpected quarter.
Controversial Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen in a tweet has said: "Minimum age of marriage for women in India is 21 years. Hope it will work for all women regardless of religious beliefs."
Nasreen, whose popular Bengali novel 'Lajja' on anti-Hindu mayhem in her country past-Babri Masjid demolition has earned her fatwa, also said, "Some men like child brides. They would be restless. Once upon a time men, even holy men, married children. But if you are civilized, you protect children's rights."
Interestingly, in Bangladesh, on February 27, 2017, the parliament approved a law that permits girls under age 18 to marry under "special circumstances," with permission from their parents and a court. There is no minimum age for these marriages.
In India, for Muslims, the marriageable age under the Muslim Personal Law was allowed at "attaining puberty", which is assumed when the bride or groom turns 15. The marriageable age for Hindu and Christian women has been fixed at 18 since 1978.
Section 5 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, sets a minimum age of 18 for the bride and 21 for the husband. This is the same for Christians under the Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872, and the Special Marriage Act.
Opposing the government move, Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rahmani, general secretary of AIMPLB, has said: "Marriage is a very important requirement for human life but no age of marriage can be fixed as it is also an issue related to the protection of moral values."
The principal opposition Congress is seemingly divided about the marriageable age.
"Mein Khush hoon (I am happy)," commented Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
"The government should have done it five years before … why today just on the eve of elections? It is because women are now educated and know how to fight for their rights," she said.
Giving his personal opinion, Congress MP from Punjab, Manish Tewari said: "There are various views on this bill. I personally hold the view that the marriageable age should be raised to 25 and not 21."
Earlier this week, piloting the Bill in Lok Sabha, Women and Child Development minister Smriti Irani said: "We are, in a democracy, 75 years late in providing equal rights to men and women to enter into matrimony," referring to 1947 when India got independence from the British colonial rule.
The menace of child marriage is an issue in India, and it has been used and abused by affluent and "princely" families as well.
Child marriage is illegal in India under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012. The perpetrators of "forced" child marriage can be punished by way of arrest, prosecution and fines.
At a rally at Prayagraj, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said: "We are trying to raise the age of marriage of women to 21 so that they can have time to study and progress. The country is taking this decision for its daughters. Everyone is seeing who is having problems with this… it has caused pain to some."