Legal Guide

What is the legal marriage age in India?

by Bhavya Choudhary · 3 min read

Legal marriage age in India

Introduction

The Indian government set the legal marriage age in India as 18 earlier, which has been debated over, so a proposal was made to the Union Cabinet to change the legal marriage age in India to 21. There were many pros and cons related to every part of the bill that was proposed, but a middle ground is soon being established. The proposal is considered to enforce changes in different laws, which would then affect the system altogether.

On December 21, 2021, a proposal to change the legal marriage age in India was offered in the Lok Sabha. The opposition parties were strictly against it and resisted the idea. The bill was sent to the Parliament, where they could further evaluate it for processing.

The bill proposed that the legal marital age for women must be elevated despite their religion. 

The legal marriage age in India

The Indian government changed the legal marriage age in India in 1978 as

  • For Girls- It was changed from 15 to 18.
  • For Boys- It was altered from 18 to 21.

During the recent changes in the law, the proponents mentioned that the girls who were forced to abandon their studies and career can now at least have a chance to pursue higher studies if the proposal was accepted to set the legal marriage age in India to 21 for women.

The cause and effect

  • In India, child marriage has been a social evil that was rooted in the past so deep that till now, many families think their daughters would be a burden if they are not married by the age of 12.
  • A situation like this has been rampant across the country the time immemorial, but as the government sets strict rules and regulations for the legal marriage age in India for men and women, things have changed towards a better vision. It is still found prevalent in rural areas where this is a misdemeanor, and sometimes the guardians were not questioned at all.
  • The reports of the National Family Health Survey – 5 (NFHS-5) state that between 2019-2021, the women who were married off before they turned 18 are 14.7% in urban areas, and it is 27% in rural areas.
  • The child marriage restraint act changed this primitive practice to an enormous extent, but still, there is no solution to the prevailing underage marriage in rural settlements in several parts of the country.

The legal marriage age in India currently.

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led NDA government brought about a huge alteration in equity between men and women. They decided to raise the legal marriage age in India for women from 18 to 21, but the bill is still pending in Parliament.
  • The PM stated that this would help girls continue their studies and build their careers accordingly, which can help in women’s empowerment at the observation.

Drawbacks

  • Even when so many steps were taken by the government to impose laws and acts for the betterment of society, the situation remained the same in some parts of the country.
  • Girls are not allowed to choose partners or build careers. They have no right to say in their marriage. Most girls who protest end up in either a bad marriage or prey to domestic violence. 
  • The government is offering many kinds of assistance to these families to try and curb the circumstances by planning to change the legal marriage age in India.
  • Early marriages can cause numerous health problems and mental problems. Girls suffer from violence, early pregnancy, abortion, and much more atrocious complexity. Teenage pregnancy and maternal mortality rates were increased and needed instant evaluation.
  • Providing enough financial support will eventually increase the average age of marriage in India. Financially weak families generally marry off their daughters early as they are envisioned as a burden. The government’s primary focus was abolishing the chances of early marriage and maintaining a firm ground for women’s empowerment.
  • After the COVID-19 situation arose, the underage marriage scenario became worse. It is noted that the law implementations need to be taken seriously and must come into effect in every part of the country.

The debate

  • Critics debate over the fact that the age to vote and choose government is 18, so why gender parity needs the age of 21 for women?
  • Marriage, as seen as a method to obtain social control, can also be a route for many girls to escape their violent or conservative families.
  • Modi’s government declared that this change would only benefit women and it favors their holistic development and aims to prevent the chances of early pregnancy and miscarriages. They are trying to pass the bill as soon as possible.
  • Studies say that in 2005 the survey said that most women under the age of 20-24 were found married or pregnant. This was over the legal marriage age in India was set to 18 back in 1978.
  • Muslim parties intervene in this act, saying this will undermine their laws and acts. There was no attempt made to alter any Muslim law as it was followed up by a different government.

Various marriage laws in India

  • Other than altering the legal marriage age in India, an overview of the existing laws is important to understand the situation. Different religions have their laws about their legal marriage age in India.
  • The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 set the legal Marriage age in India at 18 for girls and 21 for boys.
  • The Indian Christian Marriage Act of 1872 specified the age of 18 for girls and 21 for boys.
  • The Muslim Personal Law Application Act of 1937 states that girls can marry once they reach puberty.

The changes

  • Implementation of a law does not mean that it will take effect immediately as the government improvised. There are many areas where there is no awareness that women can hire a divorce lawyer or take legal consultation for their violent households.
  • Access for girls is also limited in these situations where they are controlled by their families and have no consent or right to choose an education or career. 
  • The idea of having a divorce lawyer or legal consultation is alien to them, which the government is now trying to change by providing education about the genders and legal regulations that follow.
  • The choice is freedom, but the oppression never stopped, which was followed by peer pressure. The structure and framework for the law implementation need the fulfillment of objectives.

Conclusion

The bill was sent to the Parliament for further evaluation and discussion. A law or act passed will not simply change the scenarios for a woman and curb the legal marriage age in India. A policy that will help with higher studies is being given thoughts as the government launched various schemes for women’s empowerment in recent months.

As these changes are being made and altered, several options are present to attain proper living for both men and women. It is suggested that they seek legal help to solve their queries and understand the law implementations.

Bhavya Choudhary

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Bhavya Choudhary

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