Most People Oppose Amending Age of Marriage
THE Modi government decided to raise the legal age of marriage of women from 18 to 21 years. The union cabinet cleared the proposal and a bill to amend the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 was introduced in Parliament. Now it is been sent to the Standing Committee.
More than 170 people representing their organisations and as individuals endorsed a statement against the proposed amendment and called upon the people to file objections as they are sought.
The content of the statement endorsed by the signatories is here:
WHY WE OPPOSE THE PROPOSED AMENDMENT OF AGE OF MARRIAGE 2021
We, the undersigned are deeply concerned about the implications of the proposed amendment of the age of marriage for women from 18 to 21. This bill has been introduced in the Parliament and has been sent to the Standing Committee. We fear that the amendment if implemented, will criminalise consensual marriages among adults; and end up curtailing the autonomy of adult women. We believe that the concerns about maternal and child health can be much more effectively addressed by improving the nutritional status of girls and women throughout their lives, while also protecting and promoting their autonomy; specifically, the right of adult women to make decisions about marriage and motherhood without coercion and force applied by the family, community, vigilante organisations, or government.
We express our concerns in the form of frequently asked questions and our answers.
WILL IT NOT PROMOTE GENDER EQUALITY BY RAISING THE MINIMUM AGE OF MARRIAGE OF WOMEN (NOW FIXED AT 18) TO THAT FIXED FOR MEN (21)?
A citizen becomes an adult at 18. If a citizen is old enough to elect governments, are they not old enough to select a life partner? If they have the right to decide the future of the nation; do they not have the right to decide their own future?
The Law Commission report of 2008, on reforming family law, recommended a uniform age of marriage for boys and girls at 18 and not 21. The commission noted that “the age difference in age for husband and wife has no basis in law as spouses entering into a marriage are by all means equals and their partnership must also be that of equals”. The Indian Majority Act, 1875 is equal for men and women and grant the right to enter into contracts for those who attain the age of 18. The CEDAW (the international Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women) also recommends 18 as the minimum age of marriage.
Thus, we the undersigned recommend that the minimum age of marriage be fixed at 18 for both men and women.
WILL RAISING THE AGE OF MARRIAGE FOR WOMEN FROM 18 TO 21 NOT PROMOTE BETTER HEALTH AMONG NEWBORN AND VERY YOUNG CHILDREN?
The Jaitley Committee has cited international studies that show that children born to adolescent mothers (10-19) years are more likely to be stunted and of low weight than those born to young adults (21-24).
But the issue is: If girls and women remain malnourished from birth onwards, getting married at 21 instead of 18, and having their first child at 22 instead of 19 cannot really improve the possibility of maternal and child survival and health. If the government is really serious about promoting better maternal and neonatal health and survival, why is it slashing the allocations of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme (the anganwadi programme) in every successive budget? Why is it not instead universalising the ICDS program; ensuring that as part of the ICDS, every adolescent girl receives her required daily quota of calories and protein; setting up sufficiently equipped primary health centres in every block where safe births can take place; giving the full amount of maternity benefits of Rs 6,000 without any disqualifying conditions in the case of every birth; and recognising anganwadi and ASHA workers and midday meal cooks as regular government employees with all benefits?
WILL IT NOT PROMOTE BETTER HEALTH AND EDUCATION FOR WOMEN IF THEIR PARENTS ARE LEGALLY PROHIBITED FROM GETTING THEM MARRIED OFF AT 18?
18 is currently the minimum age of marriage for women: women have the legal right to choose not to marry at that age, or at any age.
The proposed amendment will only end up criminalising all marriages in which the woman is below 21 years as ‘child marriage’, thus leaving every such woman as well as every child born to such unions, bereft of legal protections and pushed outside the formal reproductive healthcare network.
The government needs to promote education (including higher education) and also create job opportunities for women and support women who are resisting forced marriages.
If the government is serious about discouraging child marriages and supporting women’s education, why does it avoid taking the following measures :
· Extending the RTE Act to include children up to 18 years to reduce drop-out of girl children at the middle-school stage
· Ensuring free and quality education for girl children and women “from KG to PG”
· Enhance incentives and provide free higher education to women students
· Providing a government helpline offering immediate legal help and support to women and persons who are being forced by parents into unwanted marriage at any age; and to LGBTQ persons being forced into “conversion” therapy; and to persons in inter-caste, inter-faith, same-gotra and same-sex relationships.
WON’T THE PROPOSED AMENDMENT EMPOWER WOMEN BY DELAYING MARRIAGE?
In India, citizens become adults at 18. But NFHS and other surveys have shown how some 60 per cent of adult women are denied the right to make decisions of their own: whether it be small decisions like leaving the house to visit the market or a friend; or big decisions relating to marriage and motherhood. Studies have shown that some 40 per cent of rape cases reaching trial courts are not really ‘rape’ cases at all: these are instances of consensual elopements in which the parents of the girl or woman accuse her partner of rape. In these cases, the girl or woman is subjected to torture in the custody of her parents; and parents often falsely claim that their adult daughter is a minor so that she is sent to a “shelter home” pending trial, during which she is only allowed to meet her parental family, not her boyfriend or husband. This parental coercion is now compounded by the organised, politically backed outfits which use force and violence to break up inter-caste and inter-faith relationships.
The proposal to increase the minimum age of marriage for women to 21 years will deprive adult women (between the ages of 18-21) of the legal right to choose to marry someone of their own choice. In other words, far from empowering women, it will empower the patriarchal violence against women’s autonomy. Far from empowering women to exercise their own choice, it will restrict and criminalise the choices of adult women. Such restrictions on the rights of adult women are unconstitutional and unacceptable. Also, it will mean more punitive measures against poorer sections as child marriage mainly among rural poor (NFHS 5). Courts have already said that the law against child marriage overrides personal law. So, the present law, in any case, applies to all communities.
HOW, THEN, TO DELAY EARLY PREGNANCIES THAT ADVERSELY AFFECT WOMEN’S HEALTH?
Increasing women’s autonomy in all personal matters including marriage and motherhood is the single most effective way to promote women’s health. Just because the minimum age of marriage is 18 does not mean parents have a right to force women into marriage at 18. Just because women choose to marry at 18, does not mean they must get pregnant immediately after.
Government-run ‘population control’ programmes turn out to be a punishment for women, depriving women with more than 2 children of some of their basic rights and excluding them from welfare projects and schemes. Let the government remove such punitive measures and make short-term family planning safer and more sensitive to women’s needs; then getting married at 18 would not necessarily mean having the first child within a year. The government has yet to provide safe abortion and women-friendly contraception facilities that would empower women to plan their families according to their own choice.
We the undersigned, therefore, demand that the government withdraw the cabinet proposal to amend the minimum age of marriage for women from 18 to 21. Instead, the government must fix the minimum age of marriage for all persons at 18; must strengthen and expand ICDS, RTE and other welfare and education programs to ensure nutrition, health and education for all girls and women.
Financial independence is a basic necessity for empowering women. Unemployment amongst women is very high, pushing them into insecure jobs in the unorganised sector. The government’s ‘concern’ for women should be reflected in its actions for providing livelihood opportunities that will help women to live a life with dignity.
Some reports say that teenage marriages in India have come down by 51 per cent since 2000; if this is true, it was achieved without legally enforcing a raise in the woman’s minimum age of marriage. The mean age of marriage has already increased to 22.1 (ministry of statistics, 2019 report). The economic and educational status of the women concerned is a crucial factor in deterring child marriage and early marriage. If the government is really concerned about the persistence of child marriage in many of the states and about the health of women and children, its priority should be the eradication of poverty as well as improving nutritional, educational and healthcare services.
Some of the signatories to this memorandum include Mariam Dhawale, Kavita Krishnan, Annie Raja, Ritu Kaushik, Maya John, Ammu Abraham, Ram Kumar, Deepti Das, Mohan Rao, Dunu Roy, Mridul Eapen, Nandita Narain, Satya Kanwar et al.
Women Demand Severe punishment for Sexual Abuse of Muslim Women
Women organisations’ submit a joint memorandum to the President of India
A JOINT memorandum on behalf of the women organisations’ was submitted to the president of India against the sexual abuse of Muslim women in the recent past. The memorandum was signed by the National Federation of Indian Women – Annie Raja; All India Democratic Women’s Association – Mariam Dawale; All India Progressive Women’s Association – Kavita Krishnan; Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan – Poonam Kaushik; All India Mahila Sanskritik Sangathan – Chhabi Mohanty. It was released to the press on January 3, 2022.
The women organisations stated, “ We have unfortunately witnessed the most disgusting display of brazen misogyny for the second time in less than a year. Earlier in July 2021, an app called ‘Sulli Deals’ was shared on social media which purported to ‘auction’ prominent Muslim women, journalists, writers, activists etc. This was done to humiliate and terrorise courageous Muslim women who were writing and protesting against injustice and corruption. At that time, FIRs against those responsible were filed in UP and Delhi but, unfortunately, no action was taken. Regrettably, this inaction is part of a trend in which sections of the administration and even the judiciary remain spectators to criminal acts perpetrated against the minorities.”
The memorandum submitted to the president of India by the women organisations stressed the fact that whether it is hate speech, physical attacks or prevention of prayer meetings, wherever members of minority communities like Christians and Muslims are the victims, the police, the administration and even the courts remain mute. About the role of the police the memorandum said: “Often the police are physically present but do not intervene or when it does, it is to aid and abet the perpetrators. As a result, those preaching hate and violence are emboldened to commit further atrocities.”
Commenting on the Sulli deals the memorandum stated that when no action was taken against those responsible for Sulli deals’, the end of the year witnessed the appearance of a similar app, ‘Bulli Bai’ on social media. Several prominent Muslim women like Ismat Ara, who has filed a police complaint in Delhi, and Sayma, a radio personality were not only named but their photographs were made public on the site which also spoke about ‘auctioning’ the women. Najeeb’s mother, Fatima Ammi has also been named. There has been an outpouring of opposition to this vile behaviour. While the IT minister, Ashwini Vaishnav, has announced that the GitHub user behind the app had been ‘blocked’, this is a very weak and inadequate response, the memorandum pointed out.
The women organisations stated that in a country where patriarchy is rampant and women suffer inequality in all fields and are vulnerable to unending violence, this public incitement to the worst kind of sexual abuse targeting Muslim women cannot and should not be tolerated.
Through the memorandum, the women organisations said, “We would like to remind you that this latest atrocity has occurred in a situation where not only are members of the Christian and Muslim communities facing physical and verbal violence but in which public meetings are being held where so-called Hindu religious leaders are openly calling for genocidal attacks against them with impunity.”
The women organisations appealed to the president of India, being the highest Constitutional authority to use all the means at his disposal to intervene and ensure that those responsible for this vile and criminal behaviour are punished with the severity that they deserve.