The Narendra Modi government plans to reduce the marriageable age for men to 18 from 21, as earlier sanctioned in the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. The government has also proposed to make child marriages void at the outset.
ThePrint asks: Modi govt considers lowering marriage age for males: Can Indian men handle it at 18?
If law sees individuals aged 18 as adults, then teenagers should have the right to marry at that age
Executive Director, Partners of Law in Development
I think the question is framed provocatively to obscure both the reasoning for the change and the human rights issues involved. At 18, a person attains legal adulthood and is assumed to have the capacity to marry.
If the change is an acknowledgement of the capacities related to adulthood, then it is equally necessary to talk about the legal capacity for sexual consent, which is 18 years at present. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the World Health Organization recognise sexuality to be an intrinsic aspect of adolescence.
Yet, in complete disregard of both international law and biology, India increased the age of consent from 16 to 18 years in 2012. This makes for a confusing legal framework. It infantalises all persons from 0-18 into compulsory abstinence, who suddenly assume maturity as they turn 18 and, in the case of women, become legally eligible to marry.
International law recognises capacities as evolving in children, who are sexually curious and active from puberty onwards. Sexual consent flows from a recognition of adolescent sexuality, while a minimum age of marriage is predicated on legal capacity to contract, take up employment, manage finances and so on.
To conflate the two, as the Indian law currently does, is principally flawed, and very harmful to young persons. There is abundant evidence of the harm in terms of the growing criminalisation of young boys from poor and marginalised backgrounds; and the barriers this poses to girls accessing sexual health services, abortion and childbirth.
Men not equipped to marry at 18 because women are restricted from expressing their desires at any age
Assistant Manager, Centre for Studies in Gender and Sexuality
I do not think anyone, regardless of the age, is ever ready for something as heady, unimaginative, and unreasonable an institution as marriage (let alone cis-het men). However, we don’t live in an atomised world, and in India especially, individuals are not encouraged to make decisions for and by themselves.
The current law in question is being considered in a certain socio-political context. While it might seem revolutionary and a welcome idea to universalise the age of marital consent for all genders, the proposition needs to be looked at through the lenses of our social customs and practices.
For one, our campaigns might want to talk about increasing the age of marital consent for women rather than reduce it for men. The proposed change does little to tackle child marriage and serves only as a distraction from the complicated layers behind questions of women’s agency, consent, and adolescent sexuality.
Early-age pregnancy for women, for instance, is considered harmful for the health of a young woman. The government should look to ensure smoother and friendlier infrastructure for securing abortions, and also address the ways in which families misuse the POCSO Act to curb consensual adolescent sexuality.
I think men are not equipped to marry at the age of 18 because women are socially restricted from expressing their own aspirations or desires at any age. These questions are never singular, and cannot be dealt with by something as simplistic as a change in marital age for men alone.
Keeping marriageable age different is linked to the patriarchal idea that husband should be older than wife
It is a welcome move, because if you are an adult and old enough to vote, you should have a right to marry. The idea that there are different ages at which men and women can marry does not make sense. If men and women are equal, they should also be allowed to marry at the same age. Having different ages of marriage for men and women is linked to the idea that a husband should be older than his wife. This is patriarchal. It also feeds into the idea that the husband should be taller, have a fatter salary, and command authority over the wife. In that sense, to have an equal age of marriage is a good thing.
In India, the battle has been against child marriage, so it would not make any sense to suggest a legislation where a woman’s age to marry is increased to 21. The number of instances of both men and women marrying before 18, particularly women, is very high. So increasing it to 21 will only further add to the numbers violating the law. It will also be impossible to implement.
By 18, men are mature enough. And if they are not, they will remain immature even at 21
The marriageable age ought to be standardised. Young people today are increasingly marrying at a young age, and due to the lack of an option to marry legally, are running away from homes. The youth today mature at an early age. Hence, reducing the marriageable age for men is a better option than legally barring them from marrying until they are 21 years old.
Indian laws give 18-year-olds the right to vote, drive, and, in some states, consume alcohol. Clearly, if these are permissible, they are mature enough to marry and choose their partner. There is no uniformity in Indian legislations when it comes to age, be it the Hindu Marriage Act, the Indian Majority Act, Juvenile Justice Act or provisions of the Indian Penal Code. Parliament changed the age of consensual sex from 16 to 18 years in 2012.
When considering such far-reaching amendments in the law, I believe Parliament should look at research studies, with inputs from paediatricians and psychiatrists, before coming to a conclusion. Decisions cannot be knee-jerk on such issues.
To my mind, someone aged 18 is mature enough. And if a person is immature, he will remain so even at the age of 21. So, the best solution is to draw conclusions from empirical studies. But as far as the move to reduce the marriageable age for men is concerned, it seems to be the right one.
Bigger question is if a woman looking for a wealthy groom will accept a younger man who isn’t well-off
President, Men Welfare Trust
The question isn’t whether Indian men can handle standardisation of age for marriage. The bigger question is whether an Indian woman, who mostly looks for a well-educated groom with a house, assets, financial securities, a promising career, and sufficient income to support the entire family, will accept a younger man who would probably not possess all of these.
Article 14 of our Constitution provides for equal protection irrespective of gender, but factually, the matrimony-related laws, and those related to domestic violence, cruelty (498-A), maintenance, child custody are all wife-centric and are being blatantly misused when marriages don’t work for whatever reasons. Somewhere, this is killing the institution of marriage in India.
If the Modi government is indeed concerned, it should first standardise and make these laws gender neutral, curb the misuse and also work upon imparting basic knowledge of these laws at the college level. When it comes to marriage, Indian men are certainly second-class citizens.
If a woman is expected to look after an alien household at 18, there is no reason why a man can’t handle marriage
Special Correspondent, ThePrint
The Narendra Modi government’s proposal is welcome for several reasons. It repudiates the patriarchal notion that women need to marry earlier than men and some socially constructed essentialist ideas that women mature earlier than men. The proposal signals an attempt to remove a needless distinction between men and women, which is rooted in the anachronistic morality of Indian society.
To those asking why not increase the age of marriage for women rather than lowering it for men, the answer is simple: It is not the state’s business to tell when adults can marry. Marriages of young adults can be discouraged by ensuring that more women opt for higher education and are financially independent. But if an adult chooses to get married at an early age (not child marriage), their decision cannot be rendered null and void by the state.
For young couples who fall in love outside their caste or religion, marriage is the only way to legitimise the relationship in the face of hostility from families and communities. They cannot be denied this assertion of their autonomy only because some find the idea of early marriage too repugnant.
As for men being able to handle a marriage early – if, according to the state and society, an 18-year-old woman can move to an alien home where the in-laws expect her to start procreating immediately and look after the household, then there is no reason why an 18-year-old man cannot handle a marriage.
By Taran Deol, journalist at ThePrint