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Prime Minister Narendra Modi has hinted that the Government of India is planning to change the legal age of marriage for the girls from the current 18 years to 21 years! The PM has reportedly said that the main aim of the proposed move is to bring equality among men and women. It is to be noted that the current legal age of marriage is 21 for men in the South Asian Nation. “To end malnutrition among girls, to assess what should be the age of marriage, we have set up a Committee,” stressed the Premier. There is nothing wrong in his argument… anaemia and malnutrition threaten the lives of the mother, as well as her child, when a girl gets pregnant before attaining puberty… However, the health of the baby depends not only on the age and nutrition of the mother, but also on her education. One can expect that girls could earn a Bachelor’s Degree, if they spend three more years in their paternal homes. Better health, nutrition and higher education would certainly increase the girls’ ability to make decisions related to their own lives.

Interestingly, there are lots of grey areas in human life. The Patriarchal Society has hardly recognised the ability of girls, especially to make decisions about sex or physical relations. The families mostly would want to control the labour and reproduction capacity of girls, instead. It is hence the State has failed to put a stop to the child marriages even after prohibiting their marriage before the age of 18, implementing provision of severe punishment for sexual intercourse with minors, and employing Government employees to monitor such incidents! A section of Indian lawmakers thought that only educated girls would make their own decisions after becoming adults. In reality, their families do not give them that opportunity! The heads of the family marry those girls off soon after they reach 18. Some teenage girls run away from their homes to get married to their loved one, and to spend happy lives, thereafter.

As per a recent survey, the number of such girls, who have left their homes with their partners, is higher than the number of minor girls whose marriages have been arranged by their families. People, belonging to different socio-economic classes, are not ready to accept the ability of girls to make their own decisions! However, child marriage is most prevalent in poor and uneducated families. The Child Rights Protection Commission has reported that at least 500 underage marriages took place in eastern Indian Province of West Bengal during the Lockdown. And, most of them are from poor families. These people are marginalised in the society in every aspects. What is the benefit of the State by punishing them?

The purpose of revising upward the legal age of marriage for the girls is seemingly for the well-being of the society as a whole. However, the State should consider other methods, other than introducing a new law. The State could reduce the tendency towards early marriage by increasing access to higher education, by arranging skills development programmes, and, above all, by creating job opportunities, especially for the poor families. The State can take care of its citizens through various ways. Legal action is not the only way to change the society. Instead of following the Colonial Tradition, the Indian State should concentrate on Compassionate Administration for the overall empowerment of its people.

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