To put an end to ambiguity over the minimum age of marriage mentioned in numerous laws, the government is contemplating a new law that will spell it out as 18 years for women and 21 years for men.
For this, the government has asked the National Commission for Women (NCW), the apex body that deals with women’s issues, to begin consultations on the parameters of such a law.
NCW chairperson Girija Vyas told IANS that the commission is organising a national-level workshop in July in New Delhi to discuss the need to have a common law prescribing the age of marriage.
Eminent legal experts, women’s activists and social workers will discuss the spirit and letter of the legislation, Vyas said.
“Various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) list the minimum age for having sex and thereby, of marriage, differently. It ranges from 13 years to 18 years and to 21 years. This ambiguity must end,” Vyas told IANS.
Ideally, she said, the minimum age of marriage for a woman and a man should be 18 years and 21 years respectively.
However, the National Law Commission had proposed that both men and women should be allowed to marry at the age of 18 years, she added.
The urgency for the new law arose from the recent judgments of various courts. The judgments pointed to ambiguities in the existing law and asked the government to come up with a single and clear law defining the age of marriage for women and men.
“The courts asked several questions about the existing laws, which the government and we want to address,” Vyas said.
“For a discussion on this, we have invited various stake holders – women’s groups, advocates and child rights activists from all over the country.”
The recommendations of this meeting will be sent to the government for drafting the new law.
According to Vyas, jurisprudence has “ambiguous” provisions on the issue of women having sex. Under the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, the right age for a girl’s marriage and for her to make a choice to have sex is 18 years, while various sections of the IPC treat women differently on this.
Vyas said the “ambiguity happened because the Child Marriage Restraint Act was amended, while the corresponding IPC sections were not fully changed.”
She pointed to the IPC provisions that deal with rape, marital rape and consent to point out the ambiguity.
The NCW chief said the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act added to the confusion on the age of adulthood.
It defines an adult as a person who is 18 years old (and who can marry). “This violated the spirit of the Child Marriage Restraint Act according to which a man has to be 21 years to be called an adult and thereby to have the right to marry,” she added.
She said the new legislation will remove the confusion on the minimum age for marriage. “But implementation of the law will remain a challenge for administrators and activists,” Vyas added