Saturday, October 1, 2022

Law of Marriage Age: Useful or Useless?

IWD debate of Mahindra Students

Whether Raising Legal Age of Marriage for Women: A Step towards Right to Equality or just a Political Move? The students of Mahindra University (MU) came up with several questions debating the merits and consequences of this new legislation of the Parliament. The MU celebrated International Women’s Day, 8 March 2022, with a three-hour  debate where 30 students participated, while fifty percent of them explained how it is a step forward, the other half pointed out how it was not.

Wide array of arguments

The panel of judges of  Prof. Ramakrishna Velamuri, Dean of the School of Management, Prof Mythili, HOD of School of Education, and Professor Visaalaakshi from the School of Engineering, listened to the contentions on either side along with houseful of  students in Conference Hall of School of Law. The debate saw a wide array of arguments ranging from how this move by the government promotes gender equality, overall health, and mental wellbeing of women to why this move will not have the desired impact and will instead lead to an increase in illegal marriages in India along with taking away the personal freedom of women.

It is good, curbs infant mortality

The students who supported it as a step towards the Right to Equality relied on factual data and figures in reference to show how the infant mortality rate could be curbed by preventing the child marriages, etc. The students pointed out that the Right to Life would be assured with this law because it prevents early marriages and early motherhood. And, ensure that a woman is both physically and mentally prepared when to give birth to a child, thereby preventing infant deaths. Further, this will also lead to improved health and nutrition amongst both the mother and the child. One of the common arguments was how this move will play an important role in reducing the dependency of women on marriage to gain social and economic status. A few students brought out the inevitable link of the relation between this law and the Right to Education. They noted that this law will lead to an enhanced focus on the education and career of women in our society instead of halting progress with the marriage.   

It cannot be implemented,  will be counterproductive

On the contrary, the students who spoke against the topic explained, how the legislation prohibiting the marriage of woman up to 21 years will be counterproductive. It was pointed out that this law will take away the right of women to have a say in their personal matters. Without positive supportive programs, welfare measures to facilitate education, health and nutrition for women, a mere declaration of marriage age will not help in preventing the marriages of girls below 21 years of age. Some debaters pointed out the possible misuse of this law by parents to punish their daughters for choosing their life partners without their approval. They criticized that this law is not well thought out, well researched, and does not reflect the reality of marginalized women. The recommendations in the report of the standing committee are not complied with by this legislation. A student brilliantly brought out how this law contradicts other provisions of different laws, such eligibility age for contracts and votes being 18 years, etc. It is a paradox that a girl can vote, enter into a contract, consent to sexual intercourse at the age of 18 years but she cannot marry, questioned a student amidst claps. When the machinery of administration could not prevent a girl being married at age of 16, how can they prevent the marriages of girls of 19 or 20 years old? Several questions were raised on the efficiency of the implementation of this law wherein students quoted examples and figures on how the law in its previous form was easily flouted. Though the life partners agree, families decide, all of them have to wait until the age of 21 is reached. What is needed is a program to ensure health, education and other activities for women until they reach 21, so that family will not be constrained of sending her to marital house. There is a need to create awareness amongst women regarding their rights pertaining to marriage without which this law becomes yet another mechanism of curbing the freedom of women with reference to marriage. 

Professor of  Education Mythili stressed the need for Right to Education for women and its implementation mechanisms in addition to this law. 

Blow to personal liberty

Dean, School of Law, Mahindra University, Prof. M Sridhar Acharyulu said earlier only the child marriages were prohibited, but this new law prohibits the marriage between adults, that contradicts various other rights. The real danger of this law is that a person who marries a girl below 21 age, will be criminally prosecuted and jailed, which can cause havoc among families. This law will lead to the criminalization of adults for marrying and hitting on women’s personal liberty and freedom. Teachers of Law Aparna, Darshna, Mona Patnaik conducted the program, and Shreeja proposed a vote of thanks. The winners of the debate will get prizes at a special program scheduled on 10th March in Mahindra University.

Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Author is Dean, Professor of law at Mahindra University at Hyderabad and former Central Information Commissioner. He published a number books in English and Telugu.

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