New Delhi, Dec 21 (EFE).- India is planning to raise the minimum legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years, same as that of men, the government said on Tuesday.
The measure aims to improve gender equality in a country which is still struggling to ensure fundamental rights for women amid a patriarchal culture.
“The central government has taken a significant step. Earlier, the age of marriage for women was 18 years. But the girls also want to have more time to study. That is why we are trying to increase the age of marriage to 21,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a speech.
“If anyone has a problem with that, they (the women) are seeing that too,” said Modi, referring to criticism by some opposition parties and social organizations which are opposing the reform.
The proposed amendment to the marriage laws that the government is preparing, could be approved soon as the ruling party enjoys a majority in both houses of the parliament.
However, the differences of opinion over the reform could lead to a heated debate in the parliament.
The reform was announced by Modi in a public event attended by thousands of women in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which is set to undergo regional elections in a few weeks and is considered a stronghold of his Bharatiya Janata Party.
“Women have realized that they no longer want to be confined to their homes, they no longer want to go back to how things used to be. Hence, they know not to bring back previous governments in the state, who did nothing for them. Today, women know which party works for their benefit,” the prime minister said.
The law establishing the minimum age for marriage was mainly brought to prevent child marriage, which are often arranged by parents at a very young age.
According to the recent National Family Health Survey, underage marriages have dropped marginally in the last four years.
Activists have expressed reservations over the legal amendment, arguing that the legislation could increase illegal marriages instead of resolving the issue of early marriage.
The activists have said that increasing education and employment opportunities to empower women would be more effective in empowering women to stand up to the family pressure to marry early, instead of taking coercive measures. EFE