History of Marriage in India
Marriage which is the union between two people comes with certain societal rules and responsibilities. The custom of marriage has originated since the Vedic period 500 BCE. Every religion during this period came up with own customs and rituals.
First of all there was a very popular culture of Swamvara (where all eligible men were invited and the girl would have the privilege to choose among the following, this culture was popular as it was the procedure used for marriage by Rama and Sita) The Brahmavadin, Volume 5.
The second popular marriage ritual Gandharva Marriage (used to solely take place when a man and a woman were attracted towards each other then upon their mutual consent marriage used to take place and no other conditions was applicable) another type of marriage (Watta Satta) prevalent in rural Punjab was a exchange marriage. Gradually with changing time the caste based marriages and patriarchy came into existence. The consent of women was never taken into consideration, and she was just placed under the custody of her father then her husband and finally her son.
Kanyadan which was considered as the “gift of the Virgin” that was deemed to be made by the father of the child in order to gain Moksha, so a child was married before the onset of the menstrual cycle, and if parents fail to fulfill that ritual then they were assumed to have committed grave sin.
With change of time “Sarda Act” was introduced in the year 1929, also known as the Child Marriage Restraint Act in order to prevent child marriage raised the minimum age of marriage for girls to 14 and for boys to 18 years. After Independence the Hindu Marriage Act was introduced in 1955 which set the minimum age of girls to 15 years and for boys to 18 years.
With further change in time recognition of women rights and equality under The Special Marriage Act the age requirement was 18 for girls and 21 for boys since 1978, and child marriage is deemed to be illegal in India during the modern times and now it is referred as marriage between two consenting adults well past the age of their sexual maturity. (Freedom and destiny: gender, family, and popular culture in India, Oxford University Press, 2006, ISBN 978-0-19-567991-5)
Whether age of marriage should be increased?
In the recent move of the government regarding the increment of the age of marriage of women from 18 to 21 is not absolutely a right decision which intends to reduce the maternal mortality, by providing them balanced diets hence increase of nutritional level of the girl children.
Article 16(2) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) (CEDAW) outlaws child marriages and betrothals. It recognizes the right of woman to marry whom and when they want to their family planning and minimum age of marriage and to also ensure that people marrying below this age are not legally able to wed each other Article 16(2) CEDAW (1979).
According to the Indian Majority Act (1857) which declares the age of majority as 18 years, it is a very vital age from which the adulthood of a person begins [Indian Majority Act (1857)]. From this age a person can legally enter into a contract get license and enjoy the right to vote.
By putting a restriction upon the age of the woman and declaring a particular age when she can legally consent and when she can have children, the law instead conveys that the state had never considered women to be responsible enough to take her decisions and further puts a control over the women’s bodies. In a similar Hadiya case of 2016, the High Court had annulled the marriage of a 24 years old medical student because she had married against the wishes of her parents, her parents were outraged when decided to convert into Islamic religion and marry the man of her choice.
More over the age of Consent is 18 years and increase of the minimum age of marriage to 21 years will mean that consensual sexual activity is agreeable in the eyes of law and such other taboo regarding pre-marital sex in the Indian society and hence it will not solve the problem of maternal mortality rate.
Indian government has always seemed to confuse between the age of consent and the age of marriage. It is always considered that early marriage will lead to early motherhood.
Poor Implementation of Policies
Although several policies have been introduced by the government in order to deal with the major problem of early marriage and to increase awareness amonst people but due to poor implementation of such policies no such great results or outcome have been received.
Major Policies such as the National Population Policy 2000, National Policy for the Empowerment of Women 2001, National Youth Policy 2003, and Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 have been introduced. Out of these 58, there were seven national or state level policies, 17 programs initiated by the government, and 34 programs initiated by nongovernmental organizations [Chandrasekhar S. Factors affecting age at marriage and age at first birth in India. Journal of Quantitative Economics 2010; 8(2): 81-97].
Two other famous policies introduced by the state government are “Kanyashree Prakalpa” in West Bengal and “Apni Beti Apni Dhan programme” in Haryana which gives scholarship for further studies and job opportunities and hence demotivates early marriage of girls.
The effective implementation of the Policies depend largely upon the prevailing social customs, religion , status of women in that particular society, prevailing economic conditions, education and employment opportunities etc. There should be ancillary support machinery along with the enforcement machinery, for example registration and production of births and birth certificates compulsory registration of marriages to receive food, clothing, or other essential purposes.
The Child Marriage Restraint Act and the Hindu Marriage Act both in which the minimum age of marriage for girls was set to 15 years, but proper enforcement was not there as efficient marriage and birth registrations were not maintained.
The weak enforcement systems of Birth and Death Registration Act, 1969 in which if a person failed to give information regarding birth and death of a person without any reasonable cause which was his duty was liable to give a penalty of Fifty rupees, thus such poor provision and implementation provision led to the failure of such policies.
Students in China get dismissed from the schools if they marry before graduation. The party cadres are especially required to comply with this age-guideline. China has relied heavily on late marriage as a control on fertility [Lee Luke, 1974:81-98]. It has been observed in the Mysore Study (United Nation, 1961) that woman marrying after 19 years had one child less than those marrying between 14 and 17 years.
The necessity regarding the increment of the minimum marriageable age of the woman and the effort to restrict child marriage has been a huge area of concern for the policy makers since ages. Marriage is an institution which provides for biological continuity of the human species through procreation in a suitable atmosphere for socialization. Thus the minimum age in which a female enters into a matrimonial bond plays a great role in determining the fertility rate of the country.
There is a huge prevalence of early marriage (before 18 years) in India, that is why a large literature available focusing on determinants of age at marriage and its consequences (Chandrasekhar S. Factors affecting age at marriage and age at first birth in India. Journal of Quantitative Economics 2010; 8(2): 81-97.)
Firstly the registration of birth and marriages should be made mandatory and on failure to do so huge penalty and punishment should be specified, moreover certain basic amenities such as ration, clothing, and other stuff otherwise provided by the government to the citizens should not be provided. Newly married couples should be introduced with the idea of small family and its benefits. They should be made aware of the problem regarding over population and its disadvantage in the long run, initiative to provide such knowledge should be taken from the very basic level.
Secondly better education, healthcare, and livelihood opportunities should be provided for the women if the state wants them to bear child at a later age, education plays a huge role as it opens numerous number of opportunity for a person hence a person starts to think out of the box in order to create a proper career, hence to be financially stable and just raising the age of a woman from 18 to 21 will not solve the problem.
Always the state has treated adult woman as a child who is incompetent to make her own decision which is in turn a form of violent and putting certain restriction is a way of controlling their body, instead they should be made aware of their true potential and give them their basic human rights.
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