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India

Updated on: Tuesday, December 21, 2021, 11:31 PM IST

Bill to increase marriageable age of women to 21 years introduced in Lok Sabha

Lok Sabha | File Photo

Lok Sabha | File Photo

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New Delhi: The Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, which seeks to increase women’s legal age for marriage to 21 years, bringing it at par with that of men.

Giving the rationale behind the legislation, Prime Minister Modi said it will empower girls who want more time to pursue their studies. He was speaking at a function in Prayagraj, attended by over 2 lakh women.

Women and child development minister Smriti Irani, who introduced the Bill, instead of sending it to the standing committee as promised earlier, said "equality of women" in India needs to be seen through the prism of age of marriage.

"Invoking different marriage laws of different faiths, I rise to introduce the amendment Bill," she said. The allusion was to the corresponding changes that will have to be made in seven personal laws, including the Hindu, Christian and Parsi Marriage Acts and the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act.

The Bill is likely to be introduced and passed in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, the last but one day of the winter session of Parliament.

Some of the opposition leaders, including Adhir Ranjan Choudhary and Gaurav Gogoi of the Congress as also Trinamul Congress member Saugata Roy and AIMIM leader Asaduddn Owaisi, raised objection that the Bill was tabled without trying to evolve a consensus among parties.

Irani, however, rejected their contention, noting that "after so many years of independence, men and women need equal rights in matrimony.’’

"Our research shows that 21 lakh child marriages had to be stopped and many underage girls were found pregnant. So, you are barring women from their right to equality," she reasoned.

In Prayagraj, the Prime Minister attacked the Opposition parties, without naming any, and said, "If anyone has a problem, women can also see that." His dig was meant for the Samajwadi Party, the main contender for power in Uttar Pradesh.

"What did I say to the women of UP? To use their power; now even PM Modi has bent a knee," Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was quoted as saying, after the Prime Minister's address.

"Why didn't he announce this in the last five years? Why now, before elections? Women have woken up with our 'Ladki hoon, lad sakti hoon' slogan," she claimed.

"Till five years ago, there was mafia-raj and goondaraj in Uttar Pradesh. The biggest sufferers were women. But you could say nothing. If you went to police stations, a phone call would come in favour of rapists and criminals. But Yogi has put the criminals in their place," the PM said.

"Women have realised that they no longer want to be confined to their homes, they no longer want to go back to status quo. Hence they won’t bring back previous governments in the state which did nothing for them. Today, women know which party works for their benefit," he added.

Oposition members hit out at the government for the introduction of the Bill in a hurry and without any consultation with stakeholders.

Congress deputy leader in Lok Sabha Gaurav Gogoi said the provisions of the Bill were contrary to the Law Commission recommendation that 18 years should be the uniform marrying age.

IUML member E T Mohammed Basheer said the Bill was unwanted, unconstitutional and violative of Article 25 of the Constitution.

"This bill is an attack on the personal laws and fundamental rights," he said. AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi, too, termed the Bill as a retrograde step.

At 18, a girl can choose prime minister, have live-in relationship, have sexual relations, but the government is denying her the right to marriage, Owaisi said.

RSP member N K Premachandran said the government should spell out how it plans enforce the law.

Responding to the Opposition, Irani said that the government was ready to refer the Bill to the standing committee.

"As a democracy, we are 75 years late in providing equal rights to men and women to enter into matrimony," she said.

"It is important to bring down the incidence of teenage pregnancies, which are not only harmful for women's overall health but also result in more miscarriages and stillbirths," she said in the statement of objects and reasons of the Bill.

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Published on: Tuesday, December 21, 2021, 11:31 PM IST
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