Amendments to Marriage Age
The Hindu, Indian Express
GS 2: Issues Related to Women, Gender, Government Policies & Interventions
- The Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021 proposing to increase the age of marriage for women, and ensuring harmony in the age limit across religions, was introduced in Lok Sabha this week and then referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee.
- Both aspects of the proposed amendment to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 have raised a debate on female autonomy and the application of personal laws in marriage.
The amendment proposes three changes.
- It increases the minimum age of marriage for a woman. By amending the definition of a “child” in Section 2(a) to mean “a male of a female who has not completed twenty-one years of age”, the Bill makes the minimum age of marriage same for both men and women. Currently, it is 18 years for women and 21 for men.
It over-rides personal laws of Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Parsis, as well as the Special Marriage Act, 1954.
- It also increases the window for a “child” to file a petition to declare a child marriage void. Under the law, child marriages, although illegal, are not void but “voidable.”
A child marriage can be declared null and void by a court when either party to the marriage files a petition under Article 3(4) of the 2006 Prohibition of Child Marriage Act.
A “void” marriage, as opposed to a divorce, in legal terms, would be as if the marriage had never taken place in the first place.
The petition under this section may be filed at any time but before the child filing the petition completes two years of attaining majority,” Section 3(4) currently reads, allowing a woman to file for declaration of the child marriage as void before she turns 20 and for the man before he turns 23. After that, the marriage would be deemed valid and the couple can file for divorce.
The Bill proposes to extend this window for both the woman and the man to five years after attaining majority. Since the age of majority is 18 for both, this would mean that either the man or the woman can file a petition to declare the child marriage void before they turn 23, or until two years after reaching the new minimum age of marriage.
- Introduction of a “notwithstanding” clause essentially clears the decks for equal application of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act across religions, notwithstanding any customs.
- The key argument in favour of raising the age is in correlation to health and social indices such as infant mortality, maternal mortality, and nutrition levels among mothers and children. However, since the age of majority is 18, increasing the age of marriage is viewed as a paternalistic approach by the state in personal matters of an individual.
- Additionally, the application of the child marriage law across faiths sets the stage for a debate on the limits of personal law.
- The Bill was unconstitutional and was violative of Article 25, which guarantees the freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion.
- Another criticism is that increasing the minimum age of marriage will further push many marriages to the brink of illegality and marginalise vulnerable sections.
- Since the existing Act does not make child marriage automatically illegal, the increase in minimum age might not really benefit women.
- It could bring those who aid the marriage of a woman over the age of 18 under the ambit of a law that sanctions imprisonment of up to two years.
Laws Related to 18 years:
- 61st Constitutional Amendment Act of 1988 : Voting age for elections to the Parliament and Legislative Assemblies as 18 years.
- Majority Act, 1875: Age of majority as “”the age of eighteen years and not before”, and as 21 years if a guardian is appointed.
- Indian Contract Act, 1872 : A person should have attained the age of majority in order to be able to enter into a contract.
- Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 : A child as someone under the age of 18 and thereby implies that the age of consent for sex is also 18 years. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2015 also does the same.
- Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education, 2009 : A child is someone between the ages of six to 14 years.
- Anti-child labour law or the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016: A child is “a person who has not completed his fourteenth year of age” and an adolescent means “a person who has completed his fourteenth year of age but has not completed his eighteenth year”.
- At one level, the age to enter into contracts and to vote is 18 years. A person has the mental capacity to make decisions that will affect her life commercially or as a citizen, but at the same time when it comes to her personal life, she doesn’t have the right to make decisions.
- The proposed law makes an artificial distinction. By making marriages under 21 years invalid, government is criminalising those who marry under this age and depriving them of protections under law.
- Changing the definition of a child by amending the age criteria should be done only when it enables, and not when it deprives someone of their rights.
- It is necessary to have differential age in terms of determining children’s capacities, but it should be for the advancement of their rights and not to take them [their rights] away.
- In the context of sexuality, there is a need to look at the age of consent in a more nuanced manner and recognise that if there are children above 16 years who are sexually active, and it is a normal part of their development, they shouldn’t be criminalised for it. Age doesn’t have to be the same for everything.
Special Category Status
GS 2: Governance
- The Centre once again made it clear that Andhra Pradesh was given a special package in lieu of the Special Category Status on the request of the State.
- It made it clear that there is no question ofgranting special category status to Andhra Pradesh, as it already got a special financial package in lieu of the status.
- The Centre has the responsibility to fulfill the assurances made in the AP Reorganization Act.
Andhra Pradesh Reorganization Act, 2014:
- The Act doesn’t mention ‘special category’, but mentions that the Centre would help Andhra Pradesh bridge any resource gap.
- Under the ‘Revenue Distribution’ section, the Act states that “the Central Government may, having regard to the resources available to the Successor State of Andhra Pradesh, make appropriate grants and also ensure that adequate benefits and incentives in the form of special development package are given to the backward areas of that State.
- The state would have received funding for centrally sponsored schemes (CSC) in the 90:10 ratios with 90% of the funds coming from the Centre as against 60% for normal category states.
- 14th Finance Commission recommendation: The Commission did away with the ‘special category’ status for states, except for the North-eastern and three hill states.
- The Constitution never categorized some states as special, treating all of them on an equal footing.
- NITI Aayog has no powers to allocate funds. Therefore, the discretion that the ruling party at the Centre had to dole out special favors to states through the Plan panel, no longer exists.
- Resource gap of each state can be filled through ‘tax devolution’, urging the Centre to increase its share of tax revenues to the states from 32% to 42%.
- The Centre has agreed to fund all externally aided projects in Andhra Pradesh in the 90:10 ratios.
- Centre has provided funds for various projects including for the construction of capital city Amaravati and the Polavaram Project under the special assistance measure which makes the bid to get “special status” an emotional and sentimental issue in the state.
- The Centre is also willing to accept the state government’s suggestion of raising funds through NABARD.
GS 2: International Relations
- Recently, Indian fishermen crossed the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) and they were all arrested by Sri Lankan Navy.
- In the past, fishermen from Rameshwaram and nearby coasts continued to sail towards Talaimannar and Katchatheevu coasts, a region famous for rich maritime resources in Sri Lanka.
- Plenty of catch in this oceanic region has triggered a proliferation of fishing trawlers in Tamil Nadu coast in the past three decades.
- Indian fishermen access to Sri Lankan waters was easier at the time of Sri Lankan civil war.
- The fishermen had not violated the maritime boundary as claimed by Sri Lanka.
- It has been often a sensitive political issue in the past decade. Tamil regional parties, especially the AIADMK, had been often fighting with the previous UPA as well as the current NDA governments for their indifference to the issue.
- Sri Lanka remained preoccupied with its war against the LTTE. When its Northern Province and maritime boundaries nearby were never tightly guarded.