The Central government’s decision to increase the age of marriage of women from 18 to 21 has a lot to commend itself. This brings parity between men and women. The minimum age at which girls could be married off has been steadily rising from 14 to 18 to 21. A law will be enacted for the purpose in the current session of Parliament. Studies have shown that though men and women reach the biological age for marriage, they take many more years to reach proper adulthood so as to take the responsibilities that accompany marriage. Many would have been happier if the age was increased to 23 or 24, at least for men.
Men tend to reach maturity a few years after women do so. That is why in arranged marriages parents expect the groom to be older than the bride. Over the decades, the situation has changed with parity between sexes becoming the rule, rather than the exception. The day the Union Cabinet took the decision, a government school in Kerala introduced a unisex uniform – trousers and shirts – for both boys and girls. As the taste of the pudding is in the eating, the success of the decision is in its implementation. Nobody can deny the fact that despite the age stipulation, child marriages are a reality in many parts of the country.
Early marriages result in early motherhood and more births. With a population of nearly 1.3 billion, India cannot afford to create greater demands on shrinking opportunities and resources. It is a fact that many parents consider marriage as a way to get rid of the “problem” of having daughters. As a result, girl children do not get the care and attention their male siblings get. In spite of such unhealthy practices, the women have proved equal to men in all walks of life. Women need nothing special; just a level-playing field as the decision seeks to underscore.
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