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Mains Answer Writing

One of the key components of these exams is the written test, which consists of a number of essay and comprehension questions. Candidates are expected to write clear and well-structured answers that demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the topics being tested.

8-August-2023

Q. The women in India face various health-related issues stemming from their social position. Is increasing the age of Marriage for women a paramount solution in this regard? (250 words)

Introduction: National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) shows that women in India face various health challenges; for example, 57% of women are anaemic, and the Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) is still above 100. The age of a girl at the time of Marriage plays an important role in this regard. In India, 23% of marriages involve brides under the age of 18.

Social Reasons for such poor health performance:

  1. The problem of Empowerment within the family:
    • Early Marriage: It increases the risk of early pregnancy, associated with increased maternal and neonatal mortality.
    • Powerless in making decisions regarding reproduction: They don’t have the power to decide the limit on the number of children. Early Marriage too increases the power gap.
    • Financial dependence: Prevents women from seeking adequate medical and nutritional support.
  2. Social Practices:

o Practise of hypergamy: where the boy has to be older, have a higher income, and so on. The higher age of boys emboldens that thought. o Gender Selective abortion: Social causes aggravate skewed sex ratio. Even the availability of medical facilities in urban areas increases gender-selective termination of pregnancies.

  Need for a minimum age to be at 21 for girls:

  • Remedying Outdated Thinking: The 1929 Child Marriage Restraint Act took the view that girls mature earlier than boys. That is a very outdated perception.
  • Impacts girls more adversely: Both girls and boys get two years after their age of Marriage to repudiate their underage Marriage under the Prevention of Child Marriage Act, 2006. Thus, a girl can report child marriage only till 20, when she is still relatively young to have the capacity to annul the Marriage.
  • Equality and Age-appropriate Relationship: The principle of Equality demands that girls and boys be given marital rights at the same age.

Also, it would be in principle with age-appropriate relationship.

  • Lowering the boy’s age would be a poor option: If we bring the age of Marriage down to 18, it is possible that the most desirable bride that boys would be looking for would be 15 or 16 years old.
  • Impact on Population Growth: Lower age of Marriage gives more years of marital life for reproduction which has a bearing on population growth.
  • Employment opportunities for women: Early Marriage burdens women with additional responsibility towards the family.
  • To improve the social status of women: delayed Marriage enhances the access to education and livelihood for the girl child.
  • Child marriage is against the spirit of the PoCSO Act: In a landmark 2017 verdict, the Supreme Court held that husbands could not enjoy the blanket immunity that IPC provides in Exception 2 to Section 375 against charges of marital rape in the case of a minor wife. Thus, if the wife is a minor, any non-consensual sex is now considered rape.
  • The average age of Marriage will increase: A higher psychological age barrier will be created in the minds of parents.

However, changing the age of Marriage is not enough:

  • Empowerment is a critical need: Young women are unable to exercise their rights and freedoms and are not yet financially independent while still under the yoke of familial and societal pressures. Better employment opportunities make women self-reliant and give them much power in the domestic sphere.
  • Law to prevent child marriages does not work: The Child Marriage Act set the age of Marriage at 18 in 1978, but the incidence of child marriage declined only in the 1990s when the government stressed on girl-education and took measures to reduce poverty.
  • Lack of higher education opportunities: The experts have said that often the girl child drops out after school simply because she has no access to higher education and is then married off.

 Problems with increasing the age of Marriage: 

  • The criminalisation of a large number of marriages: The median age at first Marriage was just 19 for women in 2015-16. Social behaviour will not immediately change after the introduction of the new law. This means more marriages would be criminalised and can go unreported, which is more risky.
  • Child marriage       prevalence   already          decreasing   without criminalisation: According to NFHS-5, child marriage has declined only marginally, from 27% in 2015-16 to 23% in 2019-20. Thus, the law only has a little effect.
  • Higher age can be used against girls: The Child Marriage Act is used by parents against eloping daughters in most cases. It has become a tool for parental control and punishment for boys or men whom girls choose as their husbands.

In this context, the government announced setting up a task force to look into the age of a girl entering motherhood to lower maternal mortality rates, improve nutrition levels, and ensure educational and career opportunities for women. 

Recommendations of the Jaya Jaitley committee:

  • Raising the age of Marriage to 21 years is one of its recommendations.
  • A solid campaign to reform patriarchal mindsets: to encourage social acceptance of the new legislation. 
  • Improved access to education: the government is advised to work to improve access to schools and colleges for girls, including their transportation facilities from far-flung areas.
  • Skill and business training.
  • Sex education in schools.
  • Lowering the age would only be effective if other recommendations are implemented first. Unless women are empowered, the law will not be as effective.

Conclusion: Good intent does not guarantee favourable outcomes. Coercive laws without broad societal support often fail to deliver even when aiming for the larger public good. The focus must also be on creating social awareness about women’s sexual and reproductive health, ensuring rights, and ensuring that girls are not forced to drop out of school or college.  

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