Indian democracy is bringing reforms which has been procrastinated for several decades. Yet, several political stalwarts are trying their best to hinder the progress at any cost. Recently, the Union Government introduced the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill 2021 in Lok Sabha. Women is the main entity who gets most impacted by such reforms. Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill 2021 has been referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee.
The Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which seeks amendments to the 2006 law, to raise the age of legal marriage for women from 18 to 21, will apply to all communities in the country and, once enacted, will supersede existing marriage and personal laws.
- Equal Minimum age of Marriage: Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill 2021 aims to amend the definition of a “child” in section 2(a) to mean “a male of a female who has not completed twenty-one years of age”.
◦ The Bill makes the minimum age of marriage the same for both men and women.
◦ This will help in improving health and social indices such as infant mortality, maternal mortality, and nutrition levels among mothers and children.
- Increases window for Filing a petition to declare a child marriage void: Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill 2021 also increases the window for a “child” to file a petition to declare a child marriage void.
◦ Presently, section 3(4) of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act allows a woman to file for declaration of child marriage as a void before she turns 20 and for the man before he turns 23. ◦ Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill 2021 proposes to extend this window for both the woman and the man to five years after attaining the age of 18.
- Voidable Child Marriage: Under the law, child marriages, although illegal, are not void but “voidable.”
◦ Child marriage can be declared null and void by a court when either party to the marriage files a petition under Article 3(4) of the 2006 Prohibition of Child Marriage Act.
◦ A “void” marriage, in legal terms, would mean that the marriage had never taken place.
- Introduction of a “notwithstanding” clause: This provides for equal application of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act across religions, notwithstanding any customs.
The bill 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.
The Centre has also clarified that the amendments will come into force two years from the date the bill receives the president’s nod.
WHAT IS THE TAKE OF THE OPPOSITION AND GOVERNMENT
Several members contended that the bill will limit the rights granted under several personal laws in violation of fundamental rights. Opposition MPs slammed the government for introducing the bill “without any consultation with stakeholders”. Representatives of minority communities have raised concerns on how the change will affect personal laws in the country.
While most minority communities have not opposed the raising of the age of marriage, they point out that personal laws have protection under the Constitution. Critics believe that the application of the child marriage law across faiths also sets a precedence for the state’s interference in the personal laws.
Another concern of the opposition is that the bill is Violating Article 25 of the Constitution: Many believe that the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill 2021 is violative of Article 25 of the Constitution. Article 25 guarantees the freedom of conscience and free profession, practice, and propagation of religion.
Another scepticism is increasing the minimum age of marriage may further push many marriages to the brink of illegality and marginalize vulnerable sections. Opposition claims the manner in which the bill was introduced was reflective of the “nefarious intentions” of the government of not holding any consultations.
One of the leading Muslim political leader came out vehemently , said with a hint of sarcasm, “She (women) can elect a PM but can’t have the choice to choose her husband.” He here didn’t mention the irony that whether women in Islam have a choice to choose her groom. One of the biggest allegation put forth by the opposition is that they see the move in the light of the coming Uttar Pradesh elections.
Since various Opposition parties, Muslim officials, and Muslim clerics have declared resistance to the notion, they say, the BJP in Uttar Pradesh will be able to garner support among women, particularly Muslim females. Union Minister Smriti Irani said “The bill seeks to override all existing laws, including any custom, usage or practice governing the parties in relation to marriage. As a democracy, we are 75 years late in providing equal rights to men and women to enter into matrimony. It is also important to bring down the incidence of teenage pregnancies, which are not only harmful for women's overall health but also result in more miscarriages and stillbirths.”
She further informed that seven per cent of girls aged between 15 and 18 years were found to be pregnant and around 23 per cent of the girls were married off before they turned 18. She said there were also imperatives for lowering maternal mortality rate and infant mortality rate, as well as improvement of nutrition levels and sex ratio at birth, as these would promote possibilities of responsible parenthood for both father and mother, making them more capable of taking better care of their children.
When India is breaking the ceilings and achieving new feats, the Indian political system still reluctant and orthodox, thus does not want to progress with the time and break the status quo maintained by few.
It’s high time for the opposition to let go of the shallow vote bank bandwagon accusation on the centre. One is not saying to blindly follow the centre’s decision, but one cannot dismiss the efforts made by the government in attempting to reform the Indian society. Opposition has formed a pattern to oppose the government in whatever endeavours taken up. It is a shame that the political opposition does not want the women to progress and live without any oppression.