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When the law declares that men and women are equal in front of the law, why are the minimum age limits different for both to get married?
The different age limits for the two genders for marriage stems from gender dichotomies. It also somehow creates more gender-based disparities in society. The law, when, approves of the difference of age it becomes questionable. Why is it that since 1978, the system thinks men attain maturity of getting married only by 21 years while girls are prepared by the time they are 18?
Similarly, forced marriages in India aren’t a rare episode if you think about it. The girl’s age, in these cases, rarely matters. A forced marriage always remain non-consensual.
Society has often overlooked the ideas of consent or choice. There’s a need of cultivating that in our systems. And let’s hope that soon the laws sound fair for both the genders as it aspires.
According to a report by UNICEF, 27 percent of marriages were of those below 18 years of age. People have always tried to get over the burden of getting their daughters married as soon as possible. Since the burdens of preserving their chastity and arranging dowry become very crucial factors.
It perpetuates the idea and function where a woman, as soon as she turns 18, is forced to get married by her family. Well, whatever age you decide to get married, it should be on your choice.
The law standardises that age, and what we are trying to do is to question the age difference in the basic standardisation.
Recently, the issue on fire is that of equalising the lower age limit of marriage for both men and women. That would mean marrying below that age would be illegal and be penalised by the law. When the law declares that men and women are equal in front of the law, why are the minimum age limits different for both to get married?
This raises a lot of questions. Are women mature enough at 18 to be married, bear kids, and take care of an alien household? Basically, are they mature enough to become the suitable wives they are expected to be?
Recently, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman proposed the idea in her budget speech and asked for a review to be submitted within six months. Revising the legal age of marriage for women isn’t just a need arising from the philosophical sentiment. In fact, women getting married too early also has biological repercussions. Maternal health, too, is under peril if one judges it by the demographics.
Women face so many issues like unwanted pregnancies, miscarriages, and are vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases and maternal mortality. In 2017, around 35,000 women died due to pregnancy or during childbirth. Similarly, the alarming maternal mortality rate in India has been triggering enough for the systems to reconsider the change in the laws.
The practice of getting women married before they are ready and their unpreparedness for motherhood becomes pertinent when you look into this. Let’s hope that the progressive mindsets alter the disparity existing since 1978 (the amendment of the Sharda Act of 1929)
It is time we started questioning some of the fundamental structures of society. With our worlds progressing toward rational understanding of gender dynamics and education getting channelised through both genders this seems necessary.
Society’s expectations of women raising a family while the man is the breadwinner limits both their spaces and capacities. Reducing women to baby incubators and mere wombs or objects of sexual pleasure for their husbands is not new.
However, when the law itself legalises the age limit for women as 18, it takes away certain fundamental rights from the women. It takes away their right to pursue higher education, take up a job or move to a different city. The law legitimises the unfair decisions of the society that have never been fair to women.
Picture credits: Still from Hindi TV series Baalika Vadhu
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